FBI admits failure to act on Florida school gunman, draws anger

By Reuters/Bernie Woodall, Zachary Fagenson   February 16, 2018 | 06:14 pm PT
FBI admits failure to act on Florida school gunman, draws anger
Participants hold placards with the names of victims of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, during a candlelight vigil at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, U.S., February 16, 2018. Photo by Reuters/Joe Skipper
The FBI said it had received a tip warning that the accused possessed a gun, the desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Friday that it had failed to act on a tip warning that the man now accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school possessed a gun, the desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.

The disclosure sparked angry disbelief from members of the Miami suburb of Parkland still reeling from Wednesday's massacre and led Florida's governor to call for the FBI chief to resign.

A person described as someone close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, contacted an FBI tip line on Jan. 5, weeks before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, to report concerns about him, the FBI said in a statement.

"The caller provided information 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," it said.

"The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami field office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken," the agency said, adding, "We have determined that these protocols were not followed."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he has ordered a review of the FBI's procedures following the shooting.

"We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

This mishandled tip followed another tip to the FBI in September about a YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The FBI said it was never able to connect that comment to Cruz, who is accused of carrying out Wednesday's mass shooting with an AR-15-style assault rifle.

The FBI's disclosure of its mishandling of the Jan. 5 tip was met with anger in Florida days after President Donald Trump appeared to chastise local residents for failing to alert authorities to Cruz's sometimes erratic and violent behavior prior to the shooting rampage he is accused of carrying out.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Wray, appointed to the job by Trump last year after the president fired former FBI director James Comey, should step down over the agency's blunder.

"The FBI's failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable," Scott, a Republican, said in a statement. "We constantly promote 'see something, say something,' and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act."

Other Republicans including Florida Senator Marco Rubio also harshly criticized the FBI.

Wray's agency separately has come under criticism from some Republicans over its investigation of issues relating to Russia and the 2016 presidential election.

At the funeral for massacre victim Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior, family friend Jeff Richman expressed disbelief at the FBI miscue.

"The FBI apologized? Tell that to families," said Richman, 53, an advertising executive who lives in Parkland.

Word of the failure came hours before the Republican president and first lady Melania Trump visited a hospital where wounded survivors from the shooting were treated to "pay their respects," a White House spokeswoman said.

The Trumps planned to thank hospital staff for their care of the victims to Wednesday's shooting, and later planned to visit the Broward County Sheriff's Office to meet law enforcement officials who responded to the shooting.

Broward County's chief public defender, Howard Finkelstein, was quoted by the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper as saying Cruz's legal team planned to meet with prosecutors to offer a guilty plea in exchange for a life prison term. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

"There is only one question: 'Should this young man live or die by execution?'" Finkelstein told the Sun Sentinel. "We believe it's in nobody's best interest to go through a circus of a trial."

The public defender's office could not immediately be reached by Reuters for comment.

'Only one to blame'

The massacre has raised concerns about potential lapses in school security and stirred the ongoing U.S. debate pitting proponents of tougher restrictions on firearms against advocates for gun rights, which are protected by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.

Authorities acknowledged that the tips to the FBI were not the only indications that Cruz was troubled.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told a news conference his office had received about 20 "calls for service" in the last few years regarding Cruz and would scrutinize all of them to see if they were handled properly.

Israel indicated that law enforcement should not be held responsible for Wednesday's tragedy. "At the end of the day, make no mistake about it, America, the only one to blame for this killing is the killer himself," he said.

Leaders including Trump have said mental illness prompted Wednesday's shooting. Cruz had been expelled for undisclosed disciplinary reasons from the school where the attack took place.

But some families and friends of shooting victims have blamed Florida's lenient gun laws, which allow an 18-year-old to buy an assault rifle. Outside a vigil on Friday, a sign read: "Kids don't need guns. No guns under 21."

Wednesday's shooting ranks as the greatest loss of life from school gun violence since the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first-graders and six adult educators dead.

The vice mayor of Broward County, a strongly Democratic area, blasted any visit by Trump, saying Republicans had failed to back common sense gun laws and had rolled back measures that made it harder for severely mentally ill people to buy weapons.

go to top