Miami-Dade County

Governor: FBI chief must go for dropping ball on school shooter. Cruz to admit guilt

Four children with hands around each other approach a vigil post at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, honoring the 17 people who were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
Four children with hands around each other approach a vigil post at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, honoring the 17 people who were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

As families began on Friday to bury loved ones gunned down in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland this week, new details emerged about what law enforcement knew that might have prevented the deadly rampage that killed 17 people and injured at least 15 more.

MIAMI FBI CHIEF APOLOGIZES

During a late afternoon press briefing just outside Douglas High, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said police have recovered additional weapons and cellphones owned by the confessed killer. But the sheriff wasn’t willing to go into any more detail.

When Israel was finished, Rob Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office, apologized to South Florida on behalf of the local office’s 1,000 employees.

Lasky acknowledged Friday’s revelation by FBI Director Christopher Wray that the agency had received information on Jan. 5 that Nikolas Cruz, the alleged school shooter, planned a mass shooting at Douglas High but failed to act on it.

“The FBI has determined that protocol was not followed. It [the information] did not get to Miami,” Lasky said. “We truly regret any additional pain this has caused.”

Lasky said FBI investigators telephoned each family to inform them of the error in judgment.

Israel, recognizing that there were dozens of calls for service at Cruz’s home in the past few years, said BSO received about 20. Not all came from the home, he said. Some, from other states.

“We still want to encourage our community to see something, say something,” Israel said. Still, he added, “The only one to blame for this incident is the killer himself.”

Israel also said the son of a BSO deputy, a Douglas High student injured in Wednesday’s mass shooting, had been released from the hospital on Friday.

“He is on the mend,” Israel said.

FLORIDA SHOOTER TO ADMIT GUILT

The Broward County Public Defender representing Nikolas Cruz, who has confessed to this week’s mass shooting at Douglas High in Parkland, said the 19-year-old shooter will not contest the 17 charges of premeditated murder against him.

“He committed this crime. Everybody saw it. Everybody knows it. He’s admitted it,” Public Defender Howard Finkelstein told the Miami Herald on Friday. “The crime is horrific and beyond words.”

The goal now, Finkelstein said, is to keep the troubled teen off of Florida’s Death Row.

GOV. SCOTT: FIRE FBI DIRECTOR

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday called for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray following the agency’s admission that it failed to act after receiving a tip on Jan. 5 that alleged Douglas High shooter Nikolas Cruz’s erratic behavior and desire to kill people, including an intention to carry out a mass shooting.

“The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,” said Scott, a Republican. “Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it. ... An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain.”

Since the Feb. 14 shooting, local, state and federal law enforcement officials have urged Americans to call in tips to police whenever they see a threat, on social media or otherwise, that someone may harm others. In his statement, Scott called the phrase used to promote vigilance and cooperation with law enforcement — “See something, say something” — an “incredibly important tool” that should inspire confidence in law enforcement.

“The FBI director needs to resign,” Scott said.

FBI APOLOGIZES FOR FAILURE

FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized on Friday afternoon for the agency’s failure to follow up on a Jan. 5 tip that Nikolas Cruz, the troubled teen who confessed to carrying out the deadly attack, may have been planning a school shooting.

“We are still investigating the facts,” Wray said in a statement.

A month and nine days after the FBI received the tip — the agency’s second related to alleged threats to carry out a school shooting at Douglas High — Cruz walked into the Parkland school and shot students and staff with an AR-15 assault rifle that he had legally bought in February 2017.

The FBI said Thursday that the agency was unable to run down another threat that presaged the violence of a troubled teen who carried a weapon of war into Stoneman Douglas High on Valentine’s Day, killing 17 people and injuring at least 15 more.

Rob Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office, said the agency had gotten a tip in 2017 about an ominous message posted to a YouTube video.

The message, Lasky said, read: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

The person who posted the comment left no details about the location or the time, Lasky said. The FBI investigated the incident, reviewing internal databases and checking open sources, Lasky added, but, “We were unable to identify the person who made the comment.”

It was signed with the user name, “nikolas cruz.”

ALLEGED SHOOTER WAS NOT EXPELLED

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Friday that Cruz, 19, was not expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. He was transferred to a school for students with behavioral issues.

Runcie confirmed that one of the Broward schools where administrators transferred Cruz was Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach, a K-12 institution with about 150 students. But Runcie indicated that Cruz attended other county schools, as well.

“Clearly the student had mental and behavioral issues and we have services we provide in schools when they don’t fit into a normal school environment,” Runcie said.

DOUGLAS HIGH REMAINS CLOSED

The Broward County school district has not yet decided when Douglas High will reopen following the Feb. 14 massacre, Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Miami Herald on Friday afternoon. The district will likely decide on a plan over the next 24 to 48 hours and hopes to announce a decision over the weekend.

The most likely scenario is that teachers would be the first to return in order to give them a day to prepare for the arrival of students, Runcie said.

The biggest obstacle to reopening the school is that the building where the shooting occurred houses roughly 900 students and will have to remain closed for months as the investigation continues, Runcie said.

“Secondly, parents and students have told me very clearly they’re not going to go back into that building and I believe they’re right,” he said. “In an ideal world there would be sufficient funding to do a replacement building at a different site on the campus and then erect a memorial on that location.”

On Friday, faculty and some students returned to the Douglas High campus for the first time since the shooting to recover their cars that had been parked at the school. Broward Sheriff’s deputies will be escorting school staff and students into the parking lot through 3 p.m.

Shooting Day3 five mhd cmg
Hannah Morley, 19, offers a rose at a memorial for the 17 people shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. On Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, she was at Pine Trails Park in Parkland in Broward County, where the victims were being honored. C.M. Guerrero cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

FUNERAL HELD FOR STUDENT

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, was a skilled soccer player who impressed her coach when she soared over a defender during a game and knocked the ball out of the air with her head — just one day before she would lose her life at Douglas High.

A student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a member of the Parkland Travel Soccer team, Alhadeff embodied the school’s eagle mascot, friends and family said at her funeral Friday.

Alyssa, who told a friend she dreamed of going to college and becoming a doctor, was one of the youngest victims of the shooting.

“I wish I could have taken those bullets for you, Alyssa,” said her mother Lori Alhadeff, at the funeral. “I would have protected you.”

Hundreds of mourners flooded the chapel and its lobby, with some forced to stand outside the building. Tears flowed and students hugged each other tightly.

“This has changed our entire community forever,” said the rabbi officiating the service at Star of David Funeral Chapel. “It’s not just a loss to our community. It’s a loss to humanity as a whole. Parents aren’t supposed to send their child to school, like so many of you did today, thinking that they may never come home.”

U.S. SENATOR VISITS CAMPUS

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, visited the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas Friday morning and called for an assault weapons ban, adding that he hoped the power of the kids at the school could finally force change.

During a 15-minute question-and-answer session, Nelson outlined the difficulties of passing legislation, noting that a terrorist can’t get on an airplane but can remain off a watch list that would prevent terrorists from buying a weapon in the United States.

He spoke of the bravery of the students at the high school, who have as a group spoken loudly in front of the cameras of their disgust with inaction in government.

“Maybe this will be the turning point,” he said. “Maybe the students speaking out so boldly on national TV. I hope this is a turning point for the entire country.”

Nelson said he is certain there will be 49 votes in the Senate for an assault weapons ban. Sixty are required to pass legislation. However, Nelson emphasized that it is difficult to pass new gun control legislation, noting that a bill to ban bump stocks — such as the device used during the massacre at a Las Vegas outdoor concert in October — has languished in the Senate for months with no action taken.

“I grew up in Florida on a ranch. I have always had guns since I was a little boy,” Nelson said. “But an AR-15 is not for hunting. It’s for killing.”

BLOOD DONATIONS SURGING

One of the most useful ways that a community can help in the aftermath of a mass shooting is to donate blood. South Floridians have delivered such an overwhelming response in the wake of the Douglas High shooting that the local blood collection center is asking donors to please make an appointment.

OneBlood, which collects blood for Florida hospitals, said its staff is working to test and process the thousands of units of blood that were donated the day after the shooting.

Appointments for blood donations can be made online at oneblood.org or by calling OneBlood at 1-888-9-DONATE.

A PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT THAT NEEDS SCIENCE

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he is open to conducting federal health research on gun violence, which is limited by a 1996 law that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from carrying out research to advocate for gun control.

Azar told a congressional committee on Wednesday that he believes the CDC has the ability to conduct gun violence research and that they “certainly will.”

The American Medical Association concurred with Azar and urged a quick start, issuing a statement from the group’s president, Dr. David O. Barbe. The AMA is the largest group representing physicians in the United States.

“We agree with Secretary Azar that the CDC has the authority to conduct this critical research into gun violence and they should begin their work immediately,” Barbe said. “An epidemiological analysis of gun violence is vital to address this public health crisis so our society can take action and prevent injury, death and other harms resulting from firearms. ... With more than 30,000 Americans dying each year from gun violence and firearm-related accidents, the time to act is now.”

COPYCAT THREATS CONTINUE

Hialeah police said it was investigating unconfirmed reports of a suspicious man near Hialeah High School. Police swarmed the area around the high school but did not find any suspicious persons, said Lt. Eddie Rodriguez.

Miami Herald Staff Writers Sarah Blaskey, Joey Flechas and Alex Harris contributed to this report.

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