FBI admits mishandling tip about accused Florida gunman

A person close to Nikolas Cruz called an FBI tip line on 5 January to warn that he owned guns, had made disturbing social media posts and had the potential to conduct a school shooting.

Hector Romero Asst. Public Defender (L) and Melisa McNeill, Public Defender (R) are seen on screen at the first appearance court for high school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz (C) on 15 February 2018 at Broward County Court House in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Picture: AFP

PARKLAND - The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday acknowledged that it mishandled a January tip that the 19-year-old man accused of killing 17 peopl e at a Florida high school had guns and the desire to kill.

A person close accused gunman Nikolas Cruz called an FBI tip line on 5 January to warn that he owned guns, had made disturbing social media posts and had the potential to conduct a school shooting, but its protocols were not followed, the FBI said in a statement.

This tip appears unrelated to the previously reported YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said: “I‘m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI has acknowledged getting that tip as well but failing to connect it to the accused gunman.

“Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,” the FBI said in its statement on Friday. “The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami field office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken. We have determined that these protocols were not followed.”

The second-deadliest shooting at a public school in US history also raised concerns about potential failures in school security and stirred the ongoing US debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

“We are still investigating the facts,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the statement. “We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.”

Leaders including US President Donald Trump have linked mental illness to Wednesday’s violence, suggesting that it was the public’s responsibility to warn officials of such dangers.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour,” Trump said in a Thursday tweet. “Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Cruz, who had been expelled from the school where he allegedly staged his attack for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, made a brief court appearance on Thursday and was ordered held without bond.

“He’s a broken human being,” his lawyer, public defender Melissa McNeill, told reporters. “He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful.”

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.

News of the FBI’s mishandling of the last month’s tip about Cruz came as families of the 17 victims began to bury their dead. The first two funerals were for Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, a high school athlete and Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior who had been headed to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

Brian Gately, a friend of the Alhadeff family, said he attended Alyssa’s funeral and that the synagogue was so packed he had to stand in the rear.

“There was just really a lot of sadness in there,” Gately, a 51-year-old financial adviser who lives in Parkland said.

The burial became more emotional, he added, saying, “People were yelling, ‘No, no.’ Kids were yelling, ‘No, no.'”