PARKLAND, Florida – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said on Friday it had failed to act on a tip warning that the man now accused of killing 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School possessed a gun, had a desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.
In a statement, the FBI acknowledges that someone close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, called an FBI Tip Line on January 5, weeks before the High School shooting, to report concerns about him.
“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,” read the FBI statement.
This disclosure of a tip to the FBI which was never followed or acted on, sparked angry disbelief from residents of Miami’s Parkland suburb who are still reeling from Wednesday’s massacre, the deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. high school.
The failure also led to Florida Governor, Rick Scott, to call for FBI Director Christopher Wray, appointed by President Trump after he fired James Comey, appointee to resign over the agency’s blunder.
“The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,” he 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.”
That information provided by the caller should have been forwarded to the FBI’s Field Office in Miami for further investigation, but “we have determined that these protocols were not followed,” said the Bureau.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he has ordered a review of FBI procedures following the shooting, carried out by a gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and numerous ammunition cartridges.
“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.
The mishandled information followed a 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 investigated that comment but was unable to trace its origins, closing the inquiry until Cruz surfaced in connection with Wednesday’s mass shooting.
The FBI’s lapse regarding the Jan. 5 tip was met with anger in Florida after U.S. President Donald Trump made remarks seeming to chastise local residents for failing to alert authorities to Cruz’s sometimes erratic and violent behavior prior to Wednesday’s shooting rampage.
Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
The FBI separately has been criticized by some Republicans over its investigation of issues relating to Russia and the 2016 presidential election.
At the funeral on Friday for massacre victim Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior, family friend Jeff Richman expressed dismay at the FBI’s failure.
“The FBI apologized? Tell that to families,” said Richman, 53, an advertising executive who lives in Parkland.
Broward County’s Chief public defender, Howard Finkelstein, was quoted by the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper as saying that Cruz’s legal team planned to meet with prosecutors to offer a guilty plea in exchange for a life prison term.
“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.
“KIDS DON‘T NEED GUNS”
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.
President Trump as well as other politicians have blamed mental illness as the reason for the mass shooting. Cruz had been expelled from the same school for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Former classmates have described him as a social outcast trouble-maker with a fascination for weaponry.
Some relatives and friends of shooting victims 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.”
A Reuters original publication. Further editing by Manyika Review.