As It Happens

After Florida massacre, father tells politicians to stop pocketing NRA 'blood money'

Sergio Rozenblat held his daughter tightly when he found her alive and safe after a shooting at a high school in Florida. But he has harsh words for politicians he says are being paid off by the National Rifle Association to stay soft on gun control.
Attendees comfort each other at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the Parkland Baptist Church in Parkland, Fla., on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

Story transcript

At 2:15pm on Wednesday, Sergio Rozenblat received a text message from his 15-year-old daughter. It read, "Call 911. There's a shooter."

​The following hours would be among the most traumatic of Rozenblat's life as he sped to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., jumping a street median to bypass traffic, hoping he would find his daughter safe.

"I cannot even begin to explain or imagine the thought of spending over an hour barricaded in fear and terror. The sounds of bullets flying next to her room where she was, or on her floor. The screams of children wounded or worse. It's inexplicable," he told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Students and staff evacuate the school. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rozenblat and his daughter would eventually be reunited. But he remains intensely angry and critical of the politicians he says are paid off by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to ensure their softness on the gun control debate.

At least 17 people were killed and 14 more were injured, reportedly with an AR-15 rifle. Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at the school, has been charged with 17 counts of murder in the shooting.

It was the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since 20 were killed in 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

Rozenblat texted briefly with his daughter before the two lost contact for a little over an hour. It was the most agonizing part of the day, he said, as he pushed away doubts about her safety.

"I knew she was OK. I assumed intellectually that the doors were locked and [the shooter] wouldn't be able to get into the other rooms, but there was real terror in those moments where I would allow those negative thoughts to slip by," he said.

"Until I heard from her, it was very very difficult."

Rozenblat soon found himself with a crowd of other parents and family members who had rushed to a location nearby the school. Sirens were "blazing," from ambulances, fire trucks, and SWAT teams. "It was a bad movie," he said of the scene.

'I hugged her. I held her'

He says he was soon approached by a reporter from Fox News who asked him about the shooting. 

"Go film the faces of the terror in those kids — the fear, the tears, the helplessness — and then send it to Congress," He remembers telling the crew.

Eventually as more students and school staff left the school, Rozenblat received a text from her daughter. She had safely exited the school and had made it to a friend's house.

A Broward County sheriff's deputy escorts a protestor away from the courtroom where a hearing was held for school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz. Cruz is accused of killing more than a dozen people and injuring several others. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald via AP)

"I hugged her. I held her. I told her how much I loved her," he said of the moment they reunited.

Rozenblat described his conflicted emotions in the aftermath of the shooting.

"The real victims are those kids who are not coming home ... the parents whose kids are not coming home. Those were the victims," he said.

"There is an element of almost guilt ... do you know I mean? I cannot fully express my joy, and my daughter's safety, based on the fact that as a human being I know the depths of the pain of those parents and those kids."

Politicians accept 'blood money' from NRA, says father

Rozenblat did not mince words over politicians' immediate response to the shooting.

"If we had leaders who were not accepting blood money from the NRA and weren't beholden to the NRA then maybe we'd have an opportunity to address this and fix this," he said.

Rozenblat blasted Florida Governor Rick Scott as "spineless" for allowing AR-15s to be sold to civilians in the state. He also had harsh words for Senator Marco Rubio, who described the causes of school shootings as "inexplicable" in an interview.

"We have a senator who gives great speeches, and he probably was a debate champion, who claimed nothing could have been done to prevent this. Of course it could have been done. Just outlaw the AR-15s," said Rozenblat.

"Marco Rubio is a liar. You can quote me."

U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he arrives to speak about the mass shooting on Thursday, from a live event at the White House. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

He was also critical of U.S. President Donald Trump, who described a "scene of terrible violence, hatred and evil" and promised to "tackle the difficult issue of mental health" the morning after the shooting.

"I heard President Trump today, he's going to come down here. He talked about better safety in schools [and] improved mental health, but he didn't talk about an AR 15 which is an attack assault weapon. He doesn't listen," said Rozenblat.

"If he's going to come here, then don't come here to throw paper towels like you did in Puerto Rico.... Don't give me a 30-second sound bite."