The American hero who saved the lives of at least 19 children during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on February 14 said afterwards, “I feel today that our government has failed us and failed our kids and didn’t keep us safe.” In the immediate aftermath of the attack in Parkland, Florida, teacher Melissa Falkowski told CNN that she kept 19 children in a closet while the shooting occurred on campus. Falkowski said, “It was the end of the school day and the fire alarm went off, and we went to evacuate as if it was a fire drill. We got maybe 15-20 steps out of the classroom and we were told we were on code red. We ran back inside to the classroom and got down, crouched down into the closet.” Falkowski added that the shooting was “the nightmare scenario that you hope never happens to you. It’s totally unacceptable. Society failed those people today.”
Hours after the shooting was first reported, Nikolas de Jesus Cruz was the custody of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department. Cruz, 19, is a former student of the school and is believed to have made threats against students in the past. A classmate, Jillian Davis, told USA Today that Cruz would regularly make cracks about shooting up “establishments.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Falkowski’s Husband Is Also a Teacher
Falkowski lives in Coral Springs, Florida, with her husband, John, and their children. On her Facebook page, Falkowski says she’s a native of the town. John Falkowski is also a teacher, according to his LinkedIn page. John Falkowski works as a special education teacher in the Broward County Public School system. John Falkowski is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University. The couple had an online baby registry that stated Falkowski was due to give birth in May 2017.
2. Falkowski Was Broward County’s 2016 Journalism High School Advisor of the Year
The Sun Sentinel reported in May 2016 that Falkowski was the winner of the Journalism Adviser of the Year at the Broward County High School Awards. Falkowski also works with the school’s yearbook committee. In an interview about her activities, Falkowski said, “There’s something about yearbooks that is just timeless. Yearbooks will always be around, you know. It’s a memento that kids take with them when they leave here. There is just something about them that has more permanence than something like Facebook.” Though Falkowski added, “It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”
3. Falkowski Is a Dedicated Liberal & Has Fought for Teacher’s Rights in the Past
Falkowski’s politics are easily established from the hero teacher’s Facebook likes. Among her interests are Senator Bernie Sanders, President Barack Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Joe Kennedy III in addition to groups such as Milennials for Revolution, Proud Liberal and Dream Defenders.
In September 2016, Falkowski helped to organize a work-to-rule within the Broward County school district. Falkowski told WSVN at the time, “Today, we’re working to the rule. We’re working from 7:15 to 2:45, and that’s it. Just fulfilling our contractual obligations and not doing anything extra, not grading papers at home. I make 45,000 dollars a year and teachers at the top set are making 73 and both the state and the district have made it impossible for those of us who are on the lower part of the scale to ever reach that number. It’s very disheartening. I work every day until five and then I work and grade papers at home when I go home at night, and then I work on the weekends.”
Later that month, it appeared that Falkowski’s actions worked when the city of Parkland agreed to earmark $25,000 of city funds for the teachers in the area, reported the Sun Sentinel. In the article Mayor Michael Udine specifically mentioned Falkowski’s actions has having an effect on his thinking. Falkowski is quoted in the newspaper as being appreciative of the gesture but added that $25,000 wouldn’t go far among the district with 150 teachers alone at her school.
4. Falkowski Has Told Anderson Cooper: ‘We Trained for This… Still So Many Casualties’
During interview with Anderson Cooper on Anderson Cooper 360 in the aftermath of the shooting, Falkowski said, “We have trained for this. We’ve trained the kids what to do, and the frustration is that we did everything that we were supposed to do…and still have to have so many casualties…it’s very emotional. I feel today like our government, our country has failed us and failed our kids, and didn’t keep us safe.”
5. Trump & Other Prominent Republicans Have Offered ‘Prayers’ to the Victims of the Shooting
Donald Trump tweeted his “prayers” for the victims of the shooting adding, “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” While Democrats Senator Chris Murphy and former Rep. Gabrielle Gifford slammed the response from lawmakers and used the opportunity to call for more gun control. Sen. Murphy said that shootings such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting occur “as a consequence of our inaction.”