Ralph R. Reiland: Agencies ignored red flags about Cruz, dropped balls
Dropping more balls than a last-place contender in a juggling contest, government agencies blew multiple chances to prevent Nikolas Cruz from allegedly killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, opening the door to one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
According to a court filing the day after that shooting, “In a post-Miranda statement, Cruz stated that he was the gunman who entered the school campus armed with a AR-15 and began shooting students he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds. Cruz stated that he brought additional loaded magazines to the school campus and kept them hidden in a back pack until he got on campus to begin his assault.”
The headline of a Miami Herald report regarding the shootings and an analysis of Cruz by Florida's Department of Children and Families reads: “Shooter cut himself and drew a Nazi symbol on his book bag, but DCF found him to be stable.”
Carol Miller, a Miami Herald senior investigative reporter who has extensively covered Florida's child services and juvenile justice system, reported that on Sept. 28, 2016, more than 16 months before the Parkland, Fla., massacre, Cruz “took to his arms with a knife.” At 1:48 p.m. that day, she reported, DCF received a message on its abuse hotline: “Mr. Cruz was on Snapchat cutting both of his arms. Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr. Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun.”
That hotline call about the potential danger of Cruz wasn't an isolated incident.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said his agency had “been involved in 23” calls about Cruz before the shootings. A CNN investigation of his office's records showed it had received 45 assistance calls related to the Cruz residence in the past decade.
There were numerous other contacts with government officials and law-enforcement agencies regarding the threat presented by Cruz, as the following timeline, a partial list of the warnings, shows:
• Feb. 5, 2016 — The sheriff's office received information from an anonymous caller citing an Instagram post by Cruz in which he posed with guns and threatened to shoot up his school.
• Sept. 28, 2016 — A student “peer counselor” reported to the school's security guard that Cruz might have attempted suicide by gasoline ingestion, had been cutting himself, and was seeking to buy guns.
• Sept. 24, 2017 — The FBI in Mississippi received a tip that in a YouTube video, user ‘nikolas cruz' stated “I'm going to become a professional school shooter,” but didn't connect with the FBI's Miami office about it.
• Nov. 1, 2017 — Katherine Blaine, cousin of Lynda Cruz, Nikolas' mother, who'd died recently, told the sheriff's office he had guns and asked deputies to remove them, which didn't occur.
• Nov. 30, 2017 — A Massachusetts caller told the sheriff's office that Cruz was gathering guns and might be “a school shooter in the making.” A Broward County deputy told the caller to contact the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (email@example.com).