Fred Guttenberg was picking out a casket for his slain 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg when an FBI agent called him to say the bureau could have prevented the school shooting that left her dead, according to a lawsuit filed in Miami federal court Tuesday.
Jaime Guttenberg was killed along with 16 other people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, even though the FBI had been warned about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, just a month before.
“Are you telling me that if the FBI did not make a mistake and did their job a month sooner, my daughter would still be alive today?” Fred Guttenberg asked, according to the lawsuit.
“I’m afraid so, sir,” the unnamed agent is said to have replied.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Now, Guttenberg and his wife, Jennifer, are suing the United States government for negligence, saying the FBI missed crucial evidence that could have prevented the deadly attack and the murder of their daughter, a freshman who loved gymnastics and dancing. The suit claims damages but does not state a monetary amount sought.
One incident highlighted in the lawsuit: On Jan. 5, a woman who knew Cruz called the FBI’s tip-line with a dire warning.
“I know he’s going to explode,” said the woman, adding that she feared the young man “was going to slip into a school and start shooting the place up.”
She said that Cruz hurt animals, was obsessed with guns and posted disturbing pictures on social media, according to a transcript released by the FBI.
Nobody followed up on the tip, something the FBI in a rare public admission later said was a mistake.
Fred Guttenberg discussed the lawsuit at a meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Tuesday. The commission was established by the state to investigate why the shooting happened and what can be done to prevent future attacks.
“Everybody failed, and this is going to be the shooting where we hold people accountable,” Guttenberg said during a break in the meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Guttenberg said in an interview later that his phone was on speaker during the call with the FBI agent. The conversation, which took place at a South Florida funeral home, was overhead by the family’s rabbi, Guttenberg’s wife and the funeral home director, according to Guttenberg.
Suing the federal government is generally difficult. But Guttenberg said he was doing what was right.
“If only one person had stepped up and done their job, my daughter would be alive today,” he said.
The FBI’s press office said Tuesday that it does not comment on pending litigation. But it has in the past admitted it mishandled the tip to its call center.
Two days after the shooting, the bureau released a statement acknowledging that “under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life.” The bureau said the tip should have been forwarded to its Miami field office.
It wasn’t the only missed opportunity.
The year before the shooting, Cruz left a comment on a Youtube video stating “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The comment was reported to the FBI by the man who posted the video. Agents did not track Cruz down, even though the comment was made in his own name.
“We clearly should have done more,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, although he said it was unclear if further investigation could have prevented the shooting.
Gov. Rick Scott at one point called for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray over the controversy.
The Guttenbergs’ lawsuit also details several other interactions that authorities had with Cruz in the years before the shooting, including the Broward Sheriff’s Office investigating allegations that he was cutting himself and talking about buying a gun and a BSO deputy receiving a tip that he could be a “school shooter in the making.”
Broward County, BSO and the Broward school board are also being sued by parents of the dead and students who survived the attack.
Cruz faces the death penalty.