Parkland outrage over school shooting video game

UPDATE: The game developer has backed down and the game is to be withdrawn

Jacqui Goddard in Miami

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Parents of children killed in Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre have demanded a ban on a video game in which players take the role of a gunman stalking classrooms and hallways shooting students.

Active Shooter, which is due for online publication next week, allows users to simulate a mass slaughter in a school and score points for every civilian or SWAT officer they kill.

“Get ready guys. This is going to be a fun ride for all of us,” the game’s designer enthuses.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime, 14, was killed when a former student armed with an AR-15 assault rifle opened fire at MSD in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, said yesterday: “I’m enraged, I’m outraged…They are using what happened to my daughter’s school, to my daughter, as a game and they should be put out of business.”

Active Shooter offers a gunman’s eye view of a school, showing the barrel of a gun in the foreground and instructions to “hunt and destroy”. A scoreboard keeps track of the body count.

Alternatively, the player can choose to be a SWAT officer tasked with extracting civilians and neutralising the shooter. Scenes include classrooms, corridors, the assembly hall and the gymnasium. Blood showers from victims’ heads and bodies when they are hit. The shooter’s arsenal also includes hand grenades.

A total of 4,685 people have been killed in gun violence in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit tracking agency. That includes 22 shootings in schools, including at Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas, where ten students and teachers were killed by an armed student on May 18.

The trend has prompted an increasing number of schools to seek insurance policies to cover the costs of mass shootings, such as payouts to families and counselling for survivors. Proposals by President Trump to give school districts the option to arm teachers and other school staff have proved an obstacle to some seeking coverage, due to the increased risk of liability.

In New Hampshire, families of teachers “killed in the line of duty” will receive a $100,000 payout under new legislation passed last week.

Jaime Guttenberg’s spinal cord was severed by a single bullet as she ran from the gunman at MSD. Thirteen other students and three teaching staff were also killed, and 17 wounded.

Mr Guttenberg has become a prominent gun reform activist since his daughter’s death and an outspoken critic of the National Rifle Association, which has resisted calls for a tightening of gun regulations. The organisation pumped $30 million into Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign and has faced a backlash for bankrolling politicians opposed to gun reform.

“The NRA should be joining me in the outrage against this game. The president should be joining me. They’ve all blamed video games for shootings instead of guns – where are they now?” said Mr Guttenberg yesterday.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow, 18, was killed at MSD, said the game “crosses the line”. Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina, 14, also died in the shooting, called it “disgusting.”

Neither the game’s developer, Revived Games, the publisher, Valve, nor the game’s storefront, Steam, were available for comment yesterday.

A disclaimer on Steam’s page states: “Please do not take any of this seriously…If you feel like hurting someone or people around you, please seek help from local psychiatrists or dial 911.”

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They used to be a rare sight, outnumbered by their prey and elusive to all but the most persistent of hunters.

Now, Burmese pythons are being caught at an average rate of three a day in Florida’s Everglades wilderness, where they have established a stranglehold and devastated native wildlife populations.

“We’ve never seen anything like it. We’re seeing a 99% reduction in fur-bearing animals in Everglades National Park and surrounding natural areas,” said Mike Kirkland, manager of a python eradication programme for South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the area’s largest landowner.

“They are just top of the food chain down here. It’s extremely important to push back against this invasive species and restore some balance to the ecosystem,” he added.

Burmese pythons originated in southeast Asia but have had an established breeding population in the Everglades since 2000, as a result of people who once kept them as exotic pets dumping them in the swamps when they grew too big for comfort.

They are prolific breeders and apex predators, even sometimes taking down alligators and American crocodiles, and their effect on native mammals and wading birds — including threatened and endangered species — has been drastic.

“If you go to Everglades National Park right now you’ll be hard pressed to find a single squirrel, a single raccoon, a single possum, whereas if you were a park-goer back in the ‘80s or prior it was just teeming with life,” said Mr Kirkland.

Brian Hargrove, one of 25 hunters hired to search for Burmese pythons on SFWMD land, said: “I grew up here but it’s not the same. We don’t see the same fish, we don’t see any mammals. All we see really are pythons.”

Dusty Crum, also a hunter, said: “You used to drive in the Everglades and you’d see usually 20, 30, 40 rabbits on any given morning. I’ve only seen one since we started this programme – and he looked scared.”

Last week, Hargrove caught and killed the 14-month-old programme’s 1,000th Burmese python, measuring 11ft 2in. The average is 9ft, though the longest was just short of 18ft. Hunters get paid $8.25 an hour, plus a $50 bonus for every one they capture that measures up to four feet long, and $25 for every extra foot beyond that.

Wildlife managers admit that they have no idea of the size of the snake population now, estimating it anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000. About half of those captured were breeding females, which can lay up to 70 eggs in one clutch, once every year.

Randy Smith, a spokesman for SFWMD, said: “We would assume that taking 1,000 out, perhaps half of those being females with eggs, hopefully we’re starting to make a dent in the population but we don’t know.”