A social studies teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been called an unsung hero for his actions on the horrific day a year ago when a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people, including 14 students, at the South Florida school.
Ernie Rospierski, 37, does not see it that way, since he lost six students in the mass shooting. But Rospierski saved other students from injury or death when he pressed his burly frame against the door to a stairwell exit as Nikolas Cruz attempted to gain entry from the third-floor hallway of Building 12, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“I did what I think any person who I consider a friend would do,” Rospierski told the newspaper.
Rospierski, the father of an 18-month-old son, was grazed by two bullets, but prevented the gunman’s attempts to open the stairwell door and watched as his remaining students helped a seriously injured friend to safety, according to the Sun-Sentinel. The students, who had left Rospierski’s classroom because the fire drill alarms were ringing, were unable to enter the room because the doors automatically locked behind them when they left, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s report about the incident.
“Is it something that I’ve played over in my head? Yeah, a couple of times,” Rospierski told the Sun-Sentinel. “But I’ve also been very careful to avoid the what-ifs. Dealing with what happened is enough as it is.
“That stuff, from that day, is never gonna leave me. And I’m OK with that. I’ve made my peace with that stuff.”
A report about the incident to the state commission shows a screen grab from a video, showing Rospierski bracing against the door while the gunman is looking through a small window, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Rospierski credited the flimsy sole of his shoe, which got caught under the door, for preventing the gunman from opening the door three times, the newspaper reported.
Rospierski saved the screen grab image on his computer.
“If I’m having a bad day or think I’m having a bad day, I look at that and say, ‘Today wasn’t that bad,’” Ropierski told the Sun-Sentinel.
“I know I was very lucky. I know that not everyone around me was. And that’s terrible. But, I’m here, so I’ve got to make the most of it. Otherwise, them not being here is even a greater loss,” Rospierski told the newspaper.
Ropierski now has a tattoo on the back of his right calf, which shows an eagle (the school’s mascot), “MSD” and “9/17,” which references his six students and three fellow teachers who were among the 17 people killed that day in Parkland.
“There’s a reason why that tattoo that I got is on the back of my leg,” Rospierski told the Sun-Sentinel. “It’s not easy to see. But it’s always gonna be there. It’s like the people that I lost on that day. They’re always gonna be there for me.”
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