F.B.I. And Local Law Enforcement Had Warnings About Parkland Shooter Long Before Shooting

From the F.B.I. on down, there were multiple warnings that could have prevented Wednesday's tragedy in Parkland, Florida.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had information regarding the shooter in Wednesday’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida but that it failed to act on it:

The FBI said Friday that more than a month before the shooting rampage at a South Florida high school, the bureau received a warning that the 19-year-old charged in the massacre might carry out an attack at a school — but then investigators failed to act on it.

The startling disclosure came two days after police say Nikolas Cruz marched into his former high school in Parkland, Fla., and gunned down 17 people, most of them teenagers. In a statement, the FBI said it received a tip on Jan. 5 from “a person close to Nikolas Cruz” reporting concerns about him.

This person, who was not identified, told the FBI’s public tip line “about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” the bureau said.

Such a warning should have been investigated “as a potential threat to life,” triggering investigative efforts in the local FBI field office, but “these protocols were not followed” and no further inquiries were made, the bureau said in a statement.

“We are still investigating the facts,” Christopher A. Wray, the FBI director, said in the statement. “I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter, as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public.”

The tip on Cruz came in to the FBI’s general call line, where call takers process thousands of calls each day. When the process works, the call taker records information from the tipster, runs basic database checks on the person at issue and passes a package to agents in the field.

In this case, though, the call taker never passed any information to agents, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear why, or whether the call taker might face discipline for not following FBI procedures.

As a grieving community mourned the lives cut short in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, authorities have faced questions about why they did not act sooner on Cruz’s history of unnerving, sometimes violent behavior.

The FBI had already been under fire for its response to a different tip about Cruz. That alert came from a Mississippi bail bondsman who told agents in September that a YouTube user with the handle “nikolas cruz” had commented on a video “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” In that instance, the FBI said it could not identify the person who left the comment.

The FBI’s admission about tip in January made the Parkland shooting the third time in as many years that a mass shooter who terrorized Floridians had come to the bureau’s attention beforehand, a fact sure to increase scrutiny of how the country’s premier law enforcement agency monitors potential threats.

Those two previous cases did not appear to include such a specific tip warning of a possible type of attack. After a man gunned down 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, the FBI said it had previously investigated him after he talked about extremist connections but concluded he was not a threat. A man charged with killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport last year had walked into an FBI office weeks earlier and made bizarre, albeit nonthreatening, statements.

And the FBI faced questions about its near-brush months earlier with the alleged gunman after law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing probe, said they believe the 19-year-old from Florida was the author of the troubling remark on YouTube.

“Did they do enough in this case? Quite clearly, if you see what happened yesterday, presumably tied to this killer, the easy answer to that is no,” said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director. Hosko, however, said that the bureau receives a torrent of tips and must make difficult decisions about which to pursue.

Law enforcement officials noted that nothing about the YouTube comment pointed to a Florida resident, and the comment did not include the kind of specificity — indications of when or where an attack might occur — that tends to raise greater alarms.

In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump seemed to suggest that those who knew Cruz could have helped prevent the shooting rampage by reporting their concerns. “Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” Trump wrote.

As noted, this report follows a report that came out yesterday regarding a YouTube post:

A tipster alerted the FBI in September to a disturbing comment that had been left beneath an online video. “Im going to be a professional school shooter,” read the comment, posted by YouTube user “nikolas cruz.”

Two FBI agents interviewed the caller, Mississippi bail bondsman Ben Bennight, the next day. The bureau checked public and law enforcement databases for anyone by Cruz’s name who might be of concern, the FBI said, but could not identify the person who left the comment.

Five months later, police say, Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into the Florida high school from which he had been expelled and opened fire, killing 17 people in one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.

On Thursday, horrific images from the previous day’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — students huddled in classrooms and parents tearfully waiting to hear from their children — intensified a now-familiar national debate about gun laws and the safety of young people at school.

Speaking at the White House, President Trump pledged that his administration would help “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” but made no mention of gun control. In court papers, authorities said Cruz admitted to carrying out the Valentine’s Day rampage.

And the FBI faced questions about its near-brush months earlier with the alleged gunman after law enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing probe, said they believe the 19-year-old from Florida was the author of the troubling remark on YouTube.

“Did they do enough in this case? Quite clearly, if you see what happened yesterday, presumably tied to this killer, the easy answer to that is no,” said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director. Hosko, however, said that the bureau receives a torrent of tips and must make difficult decisions about which to pursue.

Law enforcement officials noted that nothing about the YouTube comment pointed to a Florida resident, and the comment did not include the kind of specificity — indications of when or where an attack might occur — that tends to raise greater alarms.

(…)

Robert F. Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami Division, said agents were unable to determine who had left the comment.

“No other information was included with that comment, which would include a time, location or the true identity of the person who made the comment,” Lasky said. “The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.”

FBI officials declined to say what precise searches were used to try to identify the owner of the account or to possibly link it with other social media profiles. Cruz had two Instagram accounts that also contain his name: cruz_nikolas and nikolascruzmakarov.

A law enforcement official said the FBI will review the steps it took in responding to the tip to determine whether anything could have been done differently or if practices should be changed for the future.

A search of the public records database Nexis for people with the name “Nikolas Cruz” returns 22 results, three of which use different spellings. It was not immediately clear if the FBI attempted to contact any of those people.

Without more to go on, officials felt there wasn’t enough legal justification to issue a subpoena to YouTube for the underlying information about the “nikolas cruz” who had threatened a school shooting, a law enforcement official said.

Google, which owns YouTube, has a policy of not turning over user information to the government without a subpoena, search warrant or other court order forcing it to do so. Google representatives did not return messages seeking comment.

Here’s the text of the F.B.I. statement:

Taken individually, the failure to act on the information uncovered regarding the YouTube posting probably would not have prevented the shooting this week. According to the reports, there was nothing about the comment that was posted that specified where the user came from or where an attack might take place. Additionally, there was apparently not a sufficient electronic record to trace the location from which the comment had been posted. Furthermore, even if the Bureau had been able to track down the account and tie it directly to Cruz, it’s entirely unclear if it could have been utilized in any way to detain him or prevent him from gaining access to weapons. This is especially true given the fact that he apparently had purchased the weapon that was used in the attack on Wednesday several months prior to the time when the YouTube comment was posted.

Taken together with the report in January, though, there is at least the potential that the apparent effort to properly log the tip that was received in January into the Bureau’s database could have led to a connection to the previous complaint, especially since the Nikloas Cruz that was identified in the YouTube account spelled his name the same way that the tipster in January had spelled his name when he called the tip in and, of course, the same way that Cruz actually spells his name. At the very least, it could have provided the Bureau with the probable cause it lacked in September when it received the original report about the YouTube comment. Without the information about the January tip, though, this connection was never made and there was no follow-up effort.

These reports are not the only indication that law enforcement officials had about Cruz that could have possibly led to action that could have prevented Wednesday’s tragedy. In addition to the two unconnected warnings that the Burea received, local law enforcement was well aware that Cruz was, as the saying goes, “troubled.” For example, CNN reported this morning that Sheriff’s deputies had visited Cruz’s home nearly 40 times since 2010 for problems that included reports of “a mentally ill person, child/elderly abuse, a domestic disturbance and a missing person.”  The reports don’t state exactly who the reports were aimed at, but it seems likely that at least some of them were related to Cruz. Other reports indicated that at times Cruz would introduce himself to people by saying “Hi, I’m Nick. I’m a school shooter.”  One neighbor recalled that Cruz  “would sometimes be hitting his head and covering his ears.” Additionally, Cruz apparently had a long history of misbehavior before being expelled from school in January 2017, just three days before he bought the AR-15 that he used in the shooting a year later.

Additionally, CNN reported yesterday that school authorities were well aware of Cruz and his potential for danger:

A math teacher at the Florida high school where a former student is accused of shooting dead 17 students said an administrator had asked more than a year ago to be notified if Nikolas Cruz came on campus with a backpack.

Jim Gard, a math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, said he got the request in an e-mail around November or December of 2016. Gard said the administrator provided no explanation.

Cruz, 19, was a student in Gard’s math class at the time the e-mail was sent, Gard said. The student was in the class for only a couple of months in the second quarter, and he never posed any problems, the teacher said.

In an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Erin Burnett OutFront,” Gard described Cruz as a “quiet kid.”

“I think I had Nick in the first semester like in 2016,” he said.

Taken together all of this suggests failures not only by the Bureau but by school authorities and local law enforcement. Whether they would have been enough to prevent what happened Wednesday is, of course, something we can’t know, but in hindsight, it certainly does paint a picture of someone who should have been paid more attention to long before he managed to get around to purchase a weapon.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Regardless of what law enforcement could even do, why didn’t the school authorities or the people the shooter lived with try to get him help?




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  2. Paul L. says:

    Why are you undermining Law Enforcement and the FBI?




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  3. Mu says:

    Still not sure that any of this would made a difference. Most of his posts look like 1st amendment protected non-specific mutterings. Pretty much the only thing the FBI could have done was call him in, and hope he falls in a perjury trap. Or find a judge that orders a mental health evaluation, and adjudicates him as mentally deficient. But from everything I read so far the first actually illegal act was entering the school property armed, and he finished the shooting 6 min later.
    Problem of our laws, you actually have to show someone is a true danger to society to lock him up, and even then he can avoid most consequences in gun law by voluntarily agreeing to treatment.
    Of course we can always bring back the old literacy boards to establish one’s mental attitude, so looking back at the Jim Crow period it’s doubtful that they always decide by objective criteria and deny gun rights only to those objectively mentally unsuited.




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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    Why are you is Trump undermining Law Enforcement and the FBI?
    FTFY

    12.23.17 Trump slams FBI leadership in series of tweets
    2.2.18 Trump attacks the leaders he picked at DOJ, FBI ahead of memo release

    google Trump Slams FBI for more




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  5. Hal_10000 says:

    Regarding doing something about these shootings? How about we take the FBI agents involved in garbage “anti-terror” stings or playing vice cop with local police and put them on the shooting beat? Mass shootings are rare; you’re looking for needles in haystacks. But if putting FBI agents on needle beat means we prevent one massacre, it will benefit the country way more than another round of “sex trafficking” busts that consist of arresting consenting adults or “anti-terror ops” that consist of building a terror plot around some gullible idiot.

    The scary thing about the recent shootings is that these are not someone who “snapped” and grabbed the nearest rifle. They carefully planned things for maximum carnage — a night club where they could bottle victims in; a public concert they could spray from a hotel; a school where they could pull a fire alarm. They are clearly copying each other. It may not technically be terrorism, but it has many of the same characteristics. This is right up the FBI’s alley and I think we need to put them on it.




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  6. Mu says:

    @Hal_10000: How do you do a sting for a school shooter? Potential terrorists usually want to buy something that goes bang and is illegal, so you can set them up. But a loner that can buy his supplies at Walmart? I don’t think there’s been a multi-shooter event since Columbine.




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  7. Hal_10000 says:

    @Mu:

    Why would you need to do a sting? Just follow-up investigations of “this is fricking nuts and going to blow away a school”. You talk to the guy, you get a search warrant if it’s justified, you surveil him (with a warrant) for suspicious activity. I think the FBI needs to spend a little less time play-acting with stings and a little more time with traditional investigation.




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  8. Mu says:

    @Hal_10000: Which crime did he commit that they could investigate prior to the shooting? Which contraband would a search warrant have found?
    Fricking nuts doesn’t cut it as a crime, outside of Tom Cruise movies.




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  9. rachel says:

    @Mu:

    But from everything I read so far the first actually illegal act was entering the school property armed, and he finished the shooting 6 min later.

    Exactly. The only way the FBI would have had power to stop him was if hed had done something illegal before that. But the gum was legal, the ammo was legal and his status to own them both was legal. That’s what has to change.




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  10. Mu says:

    Just learned about an interesting remedy introduced in CA, a gun-violence restraining order. Limited to people with standing (to avoid internet hate mobs) you can apply and get a RO temporarily prohibiting gun ownership. Full due process, limited to an individual.
    Might be the easier process to get passed nationwide than any “general population” gun control.




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  11. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Paul L.: Why is Trump doing the same? Why do you support him when HE does it?




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