- The Broward County Sheriff’s Office is increasingly under scrutiny over its handling of last week’s shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
- An armed officer was already on campus when the gunfire broke out but never encountered the shooter, the sheriff says.
- Local authorities are also said to have had multiple run-ins with Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old former student charged in the shooting, in recent years.
- A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association chastised the Broward County sheriff for not using Florida’s so-called Baker Act to commit Cruz to a mental-health institution, which might have prevented him from buying a firearm under state law.
Local authorities are facing mounting questions over their response to last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school and their previous encounters with Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old former student they have charged.
Though the FBI has attracted the bulk of the criticism since it acknowledged last week that it failed to follow up on a tip it received in January about Cruz, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has also come under some scrutiny.
Among the details to emerge after the shooting:
- A neighbour told the Miami Herald that police visited Cruz’s home dozens of times before the massacre.
- The FBI knew of a YouTube user named Nikolas Cruz who said he wanted to become a school shooter.
- The FBI received a tip from someone close to Cruz who said he had a “desire to kill.”
- A family Cruz was living with late last year said he had threatened others with a gun.
- A state social-services agency that investigated Cruz in 2016 could have detained him but decided he wasn’t a threat.
- Cruz posted multiple photos on social media bragging about his guns.
- After the shooting broke out, it took police at least 45 minutes to find Cruz on surveillance footage and several more minutes to arrest him.
- An armed officer already on campus never saw him, the sheriff says.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced Wednesday that his deputies would begin carrying rifles on school grounds. But though his department already had an armed officer on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school campus during the shooting, the officer never encountered the gunman.
“The response and actions of Deputy Peterson will be looked at and scrutinised, as will everyone’s,” Israel said Wednesday at a news conference.
“Where was the only guy with a gun when this happened?” Karen Dietrich, a Fort Lauderdale police officer whose two sons survived the shooting, told The New York Times. “I realise it’s a large campus, and he may have been on the other side, I don’t know. But it would not take six minutes on a full run to get from one end to the other.”
Authorities have said Cruz fired his AR-15 for roughly seven minutes before ditching the weapon to blend in with a crowd of fleeing students.
The Times reported that first responders were unsure where the gunman was for at least 30 minutes after the gunfire broke out and that police took an additional 15 minutes to identify him.
Al Lamberti, a former Broward County sheriff, told The Times that mass shootings were “all pretty much the same in that it’s over in three to five minutes.”
“We have to learn from this, just like we did from the others,” he said.
‘We have to follow up on these red flags’
Local authorities have also faced questions about their previous encounters with Cruz and why they never arrested or involuntarily committed him to mental-health facilities.
Florida’s mental-health law, known as the Baker Act, allows the state to hospitalize people it deems a threat to themselves or others and may prohibit them from buying a gun under state law.
Though a Florida social-services agency said in a report that it had previously been contacted to detain Cruz under the Baker Act, it determined he wasn’t a threat, The Times reported.
Dana Loesch, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, clashed with Israel on the subject during a CNN town-hall meeting on Wednesday, seizing on reports that his office visited Cruz’s home 39 times over seven years and never arrested or committed him.
“Sending messages, telling other students that he was going to murder them and he was going to kill him I would think certainly would qualify under a Florida state statute for you to have Baker Acted him,” Loesch said.
There have been numerous reports citing Cruz’s former classmates and neighbours as saying he had a history of disturbing behaviour, including boasting about his guns, selling knives at school, getting in fights, and killing animals.
“Look, I’m not saying that you can be everywhere at once, but this is what I’m talking about,” Loesch said. “We have to follow up on these red flags.”
Israel pushed back.
“First of all, we’ve talked about the Broward Sheriff’s Office and some other local agencies and the FBI getting tips and what have you,” Israel said. “America, there’s one person responsible for this act: that’s the detestable, violent killer. He is responsible for this act, nobody else but him.”
Israel told Loesch it was incorrect that police had visited Cruz 39 times, but he said his office was investigating previous run-ins with Cruz and would act if any officers are found to have breached protocols.
“We are looking at every single case we got; we are following up on it,” he said. “We will decide and discern what deputies did, what investigators did, and we will – I will – handle it accordingly, and people will be punished if they didn’t do what they were supposed to do.”
Gun threats and more 911 calls
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t the only law-enforcement agency that encountered Cruz.
Authorities in Palm Beach, about an hour from Parkland, responded to an incident involving Cruz shortly after his mother died in November, CNN reported on Thursday.
Cruz and his brother, Zachary, had recently moved in with a former neighbour named Rocxanne Deschamps.
Citing a dispatcher’s notes, CNN reported that Deschamps’ 22-year-old son, Rock, called 911 shortly after Thanksgiving to report that an “adopted 19-year-old son” may have hidden a “gun in the backyard,” even though weapons were banned in the household.
According to CNN, another report said that Rock Deschamps and Nikolas Cruz fought several days later and that Cruz told the Deschampses he had “bought tons of ammo,” had “used a gun against ppl before,” and “was going to get his gun and come back.”
The report also said the deputy who responded to the incident spoke with both men, who “hugged and reconciled their differences,” and that Cruz apologised for “losing his temper.”
According to CNN, Rock Deschamps signed a form saying he refused to press charges, telling the deputy that he felt bad for Cruz because his mother died and that he didn’t want him to go to jail, just to leave the home to calm down.
Shortly afterward, Cruz moved in with Kimberly and James Snead in Broward County and brought his guns with him, CNN reported.
The Sneads have said in multiple interviews with news outlets that they saw few warning signs that Cruz would become violent and that they forced him to lock up his firearms in a safe.
They said they believed they held the only key, but Cruz somehow had another one.
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