If you see something say something? That’s just what Nikolas Cruz’s wary classmates, rattled teachers, troubled school administrators — and even a perfect stranger — did. And still the expelled Cruz shot former classmates, teachers and coaches to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County.
It’s very possible Cruz could have been stopped before he killed 17 people and injured 14 others. But he slipped through loopholes, bought his killing machine legally and exposed holes in what should be the state’s protective safety — and security — net.
There are so many questions. Among them: Under what circumstances did Cruz receive treatment for mental health, which, some point was discontinued?
When Cruz was deemed a serious threat to others, he was prevented from bringing a backpack to school. When he continued to exhibit disturbing behavior, he was expelled. So, no, he didn’t float ghost-like through the hallways unnoticed. School staff saw something and did something.
His Instagram photos posing with bandannas around his face, gun or knives in hand were not a secret, either. And when he apparently posted that, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” on a Mississippi bail bondsman’s YouTube site, the man, Ben Bennight was responsible enough to alert the FBI, which questioned Bennight in the fall. But on Thursday, an FBI special agent told reporters that, after “reviews and checks,” agents could not identify the user behind the YouTube comment. Even though it bore the name “nikolas cruz?”
It’s clear Cruz posed a threat to himself or others. Was he subject to the state’s Baker Act, which lets police confine a person involuntarily for assessment? If he were adjudicated by the courts as needing mental health treatment — or voluntarily sought treatment at a Baker Act facility — his name would have been put on the NICS list — National Instant Criminal Background Check System. And, if all worked as intended, he would have been denied the AR-15 that he legally purchased.
If he went to, say, a community clinic, however, with thoughts of homicide or suicide, therapists would not have been required to report him to NICS. Investigators must nail down how this played out to find the weakest links. Already Broward Sheriff Scott Israel wants state lawmakers to let police move in when they see threatening posts of blood and guts, guns and death threats on social media. It’s tempting. Yes, it would have to navigate the right to free expression. But it doesn’t sound like the worst idea. Not after such a massacre.