After a mass casualty incident, one question gets asked: Did anyone see warning signs about the perpetrator? In the case of the Parkland, Florida massacre, the warning signs have already begun to emerge, including one strong enough to get the FBI involved. Buzzfeed reports this morning that a YouTube producer notified the FBI months ago about a comment on one of his videos that claimed, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
The commenter’s name? Nikolas Cruz:
The YouTuber, 36-year-old Ben Bennight, alerted the FBI, emailing a screenshot of the comment to the bureau’s tips account. He also flagged the comment to YouTube, which removed it from the video.
Agents with the bureau’s Mississippi field office got back to him “immediately,” Bennight said, and conducted an in-person interview the following day, on Sept. 25.
“They came to my office the next morning and asked me if I knew anything about the person,” Bennight told BuzzFeed News. “I didn’t. They took a copy of the screenshot and that was the last I heard from them.”
Not long after Cruz’ arrest, the FBI contacted Bennight again, but he had little other information than what he had told them the first time. Was this a coincidence, or a message from the same Nikolas Cruz? It’d have to be one hell of a coincidence, given the non-traditional spelling of the first name. So what did the FBI do with that information in the fall?
For that matter, the same question could be asked about local officials. School teachers and administrators knew that Cruz had threatened students, the Miami Herald reported late yesterday, and had barred him from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus. The students certainly knew Cruz was a potential danger:
The portrait of Nikolas Cruz, suspected of fatally shooting 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and wounding 15 others at his former school, is a troubled teen with few friends and an obsessive interest in weapons. Administrators considered him enough of a potential threat that one teacher said a warning was emailed last year against allowing him on the campus with a backpack.
“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” said Joshua Charo, 16, a former classmate at the high school. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.” …
Charo, his former classmate, said Cruz had earlier been suspended from Stoneman Douglas High for fighting — and also because he was found with bullets in his backpack. Sheriff Israel said at a news conference that Cruz had been expelled for “disciplinary reasons” but he did not provide any details of what led to that action.
Math teacher Jim Gard remembered that the school administration earlier sent out an email warning teachers about Cruz.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said Gard, who had him in class. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
Curiously, though, the warnings never got to the school district’s superintendent:
Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he did not know of any concerns raised about the student. “We received no warnings,” Runcie said. “Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”
That seems very strange. If the school considered Cruz enough of a threat to send warnings out to teachers, why wouldn’t they notify the school district? After all, Cruz’ expulsion meant that he had to attend a different school in the same district, which would have presented a threat to that facility.
That is less explicable than the FBI’s lack of action. The FBI will face a lot of questions about their earlier involvement in the Cruz threat (assuming the Buzzfeed story is accurate), but they are a federal law enforcement agency, not a social welfare organization. Their jurisdiction is federal law rather than local, and if Cruz didn’t violate federal law, they had no direct action to take. Posting stupid comments on YouTube videos is not a federal crime, and a threat has to be specific in order for it to cross over from stupid comment to actionable criminal violation.
The FBI could have notified local law enforcement if they saw a potential threat, though. Did they? Did the school notify local law enforcement of the threat posed by Cruz, or even of finding bullets in his backpack while at school? If they didn’t notify the superintendent, it would likely mean they didn’t get law enforcement involved, either. It seems there were at least a few opportunities to put some obstacles in Cruz’ way before he walked onto the Douglas High campus yesterday.
Update: The FBI agent in charge of the shooting probe said today that they could not identify the commenter in the original investigation:
JUST IN: FBI investigated school shooting threat made on YouTube last year but could not identify person behind it – FBI agent in charge of Florida shooting probe https://t.co/YmW4VvoVt4
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) February 15, 2018
If an actual crime had been committed, they may have been able to gain access to IP records and other data through search warrants and subpoenas. Without evidence of a crime, they likely would have had very limited ability to figure out who “Nikolas Cruz” was, and where he was, unless they’d gotten tipped about him earlier. And that, sadly, does not seem to be the case.