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Gun violence in the US

FBI failed to find ‘Florida school shooter and white supremacist’ Nikolas Cruz after tip-off

Nikolas Cruz is alleged to have killed 17 people at a Florida high school on Wednesday; he has been denied bail

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 8:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 3:32am

The FBI were told that alleged Florida high-school shooter Nikolas Cruz made an online threat last year, but failed to find him when the tip-off was investigated, it has emerged.

Cruz, 19, who was denied bail on Thursday after being charged with the Wednesday killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, left a comment on a YouTube video that read “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” the Bureau said.

“No other information was included with that comment which would indicate a time location or the true identity of the person who made the comment,” Special Agent in Charge Robert Lasky told reporters.

The bureau is now conducting an extensive review of how it handled that tip to see if mistakes were made, a federal law enforcement official said.

Those remarks came the same say that police revealed Cruz had connections to a white supremacist group named Republic of Florida (ROF).

The group describes itself as a “white civil rights organization fighting for white identitarian politics” and seeks to create a “white ethnostate” in Florida, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Ex-student kills 17 in bloody Valentine’s Day shooting spree at Florida high school

Speaking to the League, ROF representative Jordan Jereb said that Cruz had been associated with ROF, having been invited in by another member.

He had joined in at least one ROF training exercise in the Tallahassee area and carpooled with other ROF members from south Florida, Jereb said.

He also said the ROF “had not ordered or wanted Cruz to do anything like the school shooting,” according to the league.

Earlier on Thursday, Cruz appeared in court for a bail hearing on his 17 counts of premeditated murder, his head hung low. He was ordered to be held without bail.

Before the hearing, an official with the public defender’s office described Cruz as a “deeply troubled child who has endured a lot of emotional trauma in a short period of time.”

Public defender Melisa McNeill later told reporters Cruz is fully aware of what’s going on, but that he’s also just a “broken human being.”

Cruz was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple ammunition magazines when he surrendered to officers in a nearby residential area, police said. 

He loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, police and former classmates said.

The shooting in a community about 72km north of Miami was the 18th in a US school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, continuing a troubling pattern that has played out over the past few years.

It was the second deadliest shooting in a US public junior or high school after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

The deadliest school shooting in US history was at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 people were killed.

“Our district is in a tremendous state of grief and sorrow,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of the school district in Parkland. “It is a horrible day for us.”

Students who knew Cruz described a volatile teenager whose strange behaviour had caused others to end friendships with him. 

US President Donald Trump on Thursday morning urged Americans to report neighbours’ “erratic” behaviour.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour,” he tweeted.

“Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Trump later ordered flags at all US embassies, government buildings and military installations to be flown at half mast, “as a mark of solemn respect for the victims of the terrible act of violence perpetrated on February 14, 2018”.

“Our nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones in the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,” he said.

The Florida shootings stirred the long-simmering US debate on the right to bear arms, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Schools across the country have installed electronically secured doors and added security staff, but few legislative solutions have emerged.

A law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the Broward County district, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High board member Donna Korn told a local newspaper. The sheriff’s office also provides active shooter training and schools have a single point of entry, she said.

“We have prepared the campuses, but sometimes people still find a way to let these horrific things happen,” Korn said.

They didn’t see any danger. They didn’t see any kind of predilection this was going to happen
Lawyer Jim Lewis

Cruz wore a gas mask as he stalked into the school on Wednesday carrying a rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from classrooms into hallways, according to Florida’s two US senators, who were brief by federal authorities.

Hundreds of panicked students fled the building, running past heavily armed, helmeted police officers while others huddled in closets.

Parents raced to the school of 3,300 students and a nearby hotel that was set up as a checkpoint to find their children.

A chilling mobile phone video broadcast by CBS News showed what it said was the shooting in progress from inside a classroom. Several students were huddled or lying on the floor surrounded by mostly empty desks. A rapid series of loud gunshots are heard along with hysterical screaming.

Cruz’s mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia on November 1, neighbours, friends and family members said, according to The Sun Sentinel. Cruz and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Nikolas and his biological brother, Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island in New York to Broward County.

The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island, said.

Unhappy there, Nikolas Cruz asked to move in with a friend’s family in northwest Broward. The family agreed and Cruz moved in around Thanksgiving. According to the family’s lawyer, who did not identify them, they knew that Cruz owned the AR-15 but made him keep it locked up in a cabinet. He did have the key, however.

Cruz is believed to have bought the semi-automatic weapon legally.

The family believed Cruz was depressed, but attributed that to his mother’s death, not mental illness,” said Jim Lewis, a lawyer representing the family.

“They didn’t see any danger. They didn’t see any kind of predilection this was going to happen,” Lewis told CNN.

Authorities offered no immediate details about Cruz or his possible motive. 

Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse