THE HORRIFIC slaughter of 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day was the latest in a seemingly endless string of violence that has turned schools, concert venues, movie theaters and even churches in America into killing fields. Anguished survivors are demanding that government officials do something to stop the carnage.
But details that emerged in the two weeks following the shooting paint a disturbing picture of systemic failure by government officials at the local, state and federal level to do anything about the numerous warnings regarding confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Cruz was reportedly expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary reasons, including bringing bullets to school in his backpack. And according to documents obtained by CNN, Broward County deputies had been called to Cruz’s home for domestic disturbances 39 times since 2010.
In February 2016, deputies were told that Cruz posted a message on Instagram threatening to shoot up a school. That September, a social worker from the Florida Department of Children and Families, who investigated the family, closed the case after noting that Cruz was on medication for mental health issues, but was supposedly “stable”—despite “fresh cuts” on his arms.
Someone with this history of instability should never have been allowed near a gun. But the lack of any official intervention allowed Cruz to legally purchase an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in February 2017, according to the special agent in charge of the Miami field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Then, months before the Parkland massacre, a woman whose family had taken Cruz in immediately after his adoptive mother’s death, called 911 and told law enforcement authorities that Cruz had bought a gun and threatened to come back with it, adding that, “it’s not the first time he’s put a gun on somebody’s head.”
Under Florida law, it’s a felony to threaten violence with a deadly weapon if the aggressor has an apparent ability to carry out the threat and has caused the victim a well-founded fear of bodily harm. Cruz appears to have met all three of these conditions, but he was not arrested nor involuntarily committed to a mental health facility under Florida’s Baker Act.
The FBI also proved to be no match for the troubled 19-year-old. Last September, a YouTube video blogger in Mississippi notified the FBI’s Public Access Line that somebody identifying himself as Nikolas Cruz had posted the disturbing message: “Im (sic) going to be a professional school shooter.” But FBI agents interviewed the tipster—not Cruz.
On Jan. 5, 2018, an unidentified woman reportedly told the FBI that she was concerned that Cruz “had a desire to kill people” and “is going to explode”—and expressed her fear that he would “get into a school and just shoot the place up,” according to a transcript of the call reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Yet the FBI did not even bother to alert the Broward County Sheriff’s Office or the local school district.
In a Feb. 16 statement, FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted that “established protocols” were not followed, including forwarding this information to the FBI’s field office in Miami, “where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.”
But no steps were taken, so Cruz was able to enter an inexplicably unlocked door at the school and carry out his threat. The last line of defense—an armed Broward County deputy assigned to the school as a resource officer—remained outside during the massacre instead of engaging the shooter as he was trained to do.
The heroes in this tragedy included assistant football coach (and security guard) Aaron Feis and cross country coach Scott Beigel, both of whom died shielding the students, as well as the Coral Gable police officers who were the first to storm the building and who ultimately located and arrested Cruz. But too many others ignored the warning signs, passed the buck, or failed to follow their own agency protocols.
Would 17 people still be alive in Parkland if the government officials in charge had done something to stop Cruz from carrying out his murderous plan? Answering that uncomfortable question honestly is the first step in any national decision about what to do next.
Under Florida law, it’s a felony to threaten violence with a deadly weapon if the aggressor has an apparent ability to carry out the threat and has caused the victim a well-founded fear of bodily harm.