Parkland High School Shooting: FBI was warned about Nikolas Cruz five months ago
As details begin to emerge about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, a clearer picture is coming into view. But were the FBI aware of Cruz's intentions?
The shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 45 miles north of Miami, claimed the lives of 17 innocents and injured another two dozen. The perpetrator, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz was apprehended by authorities a little over an hour later and taken to the Broward County Jail, after which he made his first appearance in court on Thursday.
While his public defenders will doubt ask for clemency, prosecutors will try to make an example out of Cruz and go for the jugular, asking for the death penalty. As a comprehensive profile on Cruz is getting pieced together, the picture emerging is one of a disturbed individual who had a morbid fascination with guns, knives, and all things violent.
Cruz was expelled from the Parkland high school for disciplinary reasons - he had brought bullets to the school and had repeatedly pulled the fire alarm for no good reason - and according to various accounts, had threatened friends on numerous occasions. According to his counsel, he also suffered from autism, depression, and dealt with significant psychological problems, most stemming from his mother's death in November.
The warning signs were there for all to see, so why was no action taken? The role of the authorities has recently been brought into further scrutiny when an FBI official admitted on Thursday that they were warned about Cruz; not once, but on two separate occasions.
One such warning came in September. A bail bondsman in Mississippi alerted the federal authorities to some of the inflammatory and alarming messages Cruz had written on social media. These messages were not veiled either, with one straight up claiming that he was 'going to be a professional school shooter.'
After the incident, when investigators were looking into Cruz's digital profile, they found some disturbing comments made with his name on the video-sharing platform, YouTube. Some of these disturbing comments read: "I whana shoot people with my AR-15" (sic), "I wanna die Fighting killing*** ton of people," and "I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people."
But it has emerged that authorities may have been aware of these comments as well. Mississippi YouTube vlogger Ben Bennight says he alerted the FBI to some of the comments Cruz had written on one of his videos back in September.
According to CNN, Bennight shared a screenshot of the now-deleted comment to what he thought was an FBI tip line, but that the email address was invalid. He then followed that up with a phone call to the bureau and managed to get through to them.
He said that the FBI responded quickly to his concerns and that a few officials arrived at his office the very next day to find out if he knew anything more about Cruz. But he says that he heard nothing further from the agency, that is, until the day after the shooting. FBI agents from the Mississippi office paid him another visit and wanted to follow up on the September incident.
According to Buzzfeed, about 30 minutes after Cruz was taken into custody, Special Agent Ryan Furr from the Miami field office called him and left a voicemail which said: "I think we spoke with you in the past about a complaint that you made about someone making a comment on your YouTube channel. I just wanted to follow up with you on that and ask you a question with something that's come up, if you wouldn't mind giving me a ring."
He spoke to CNN in a phone interview, saying: "I saw the story kind of go across my news feed, but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it. But when the FBI said it was the same name, the first thing that went through my mind was, 'Wow, I hope you were at least watching this guy that I alerted you to months ago.'"
"I think in today's online world, it is very difficult to narrow down who does what without more information, and unfortunately, I wasn't able to provide them with much."
In a video posted on his YouTube channel after the shooting, Bennight said: "People leave pretty heinous comments on a pretty regular basis on this channel and I really didn't think anything of it. But this comment said, 'I'm going to be a professional school shooter' and I knew I couldn't just ignore that."
He continued: "I would like to think that they were already investigating this guy and they had him on the top of their radar and that’s how they wound up contacting me so quickly. I wish I could’ve given him more information but it was just a comment on my channel, a generic name — the person’s name — and they think it was related so they came out to talk to me."
Responding to questions about their inaction regarding these red flags, an FBI official said that they did follow up on the report but could do nothing because they were 'unable to further identify the person who made the comment.'
Speaking at a press conference, special agent Robert Lasky said: "No other information was included in the comment, which would indicate a time, location, or true identity of the person who made the comment. The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who made the comment."
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