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FBI says it failed to properly investigate tip on teen accused in deadly school shooting

Los Angeles Times
February 16. 2018 10:03PM
Joe Zevuloni mourns in front of a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 16, 2018. (REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Nikolas Cruz (Broward County (Florida) Sheriff's Office)

PARKLAND, Fla. — A person close to the teenager accused of killing 17 people at a South Florida high school this week called FBI officials in early January to report concerns about the teen, but the agency failed to properly investigate the warning, the FBI said Friday.

The agency said proper “protocols were not followed” in investigating Nikolas Cruz, who authorities say has confessed to stalking the high school’s hallways, gunning down students and teachers.

“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. It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Wray said FBI officials had reached out to families involved with the Florida rampage.

“We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy,” Wray said. “All of the men and women of the FBI are dedicated to keeping the American people safe, and are relentlessly committed to improving all that we do and how we do it.”

The FBI statement quickly led to widespread outrage, including a call by Florida Gov. Rick Scott for Wray to resign. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the deputy attorney general to review the FBI’s procedures for fielding tips from callers.

A law enforcement official said calls to the tip line are handled at the FBI’s call center in West Virginia. Approximately 2,100 calls a day go to the center.

The caller indicated that Cruz had recently purchased firearms and had threatened a family member, the official said, adding that the caller knew Cruz’s address and said he had been posting disturbing messages on social media accounts and that he had a desire to kill.

“Clearly the person was afraid (he) was going to harm somebody,” said the official, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the investigation.

There was a back-and-forth conversation between the tipster and the FBI employee who took the call, the official said, noting that there were enough specifics provided that the call center employee should have written a report and sent it to the Miami field office for investigation. That didn’t happen.

It was the second time the FBI apparently failed to follow up on Cruz.

“Im going to be a professional school shooter,” a YouTube commenter identifying himself as Nikolas Cruz wrote beneath another user’s video in September. The video’s poster, Ben Bennight, who lives in Mississippi, called the FBI to warn them. At a news briefing in Florida on Thursday, Robert Lasky, the FBI special agent in charge, confirmed that the bureau had investigated that comment. But he said agents couldn’t identify the person behind the comment and never linked him to South Florida.

Cruz, who was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, told investigators that he walked the hallways of the school Wednesday afternoon, shooting students and teachers with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a report from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said. Cruz, 19, on Thursday was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. A district court judge ordered Cruz held without bond.

At a news conference Friday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said his office had responded to “approximately 20 calls for service over the last few years regarding the killer.” He did not provide details about those calls.

In addition to Scott’s call for Wray’s resignation, the FBI’s failure drew criticism from the relatives of victims in the Florida shooting and politicians demanding more answers from the agency.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said it was “inexcusable that the FBI failed to follow protocols.” He called for congressional investigations into how the FBI handled the matter.

“In this tragic case, people close to the shooter said something, and our system utterly failed the families of 17 innocent souls,” Rubio said.

On Friday, as survivors and those who lost loved ones in the attack began attending funerals, investigators continued to piece together a timeline of events that took place during one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

Law enforcement has not offered a motive, but has said that Cruz was able to blend in with other students as he fled the school following the shooting. He visited a nearby Subway and McDonald’s before police found him walking on a sidewalk in nearby Coral Springs, Fla.

Sheriff’s officials Friday were escorting students and staff back to the school to retrieve vehicles left in the parking lot as the investigation at the scene continued.

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