“These families deserve answers,” ABC reporter Victor Oquendo quotes Florida Gov. Rick Scott as saying about the failure of the FBI to follow up on two tips about the Parkland mass shooter. Those answers won’t come just from the feds, however. Fellow student Ariana Lopez tells Oquendo that she and her friends alerted school officials on numerous occasions about the danger posed by Nikolas Cruz, including threats to kill “our parents, our friends, boyfriends and girlfriends.”
How many opportunities did the school have? Oquendo has that number, too:
"He talked about killing our parents, our friends, boyfriends and girlfriends."
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 20, 2018
The school had twenty-five separate disciplinary actions against Cruz before the shooting, including a suspension for the fight seen in the video. Nevertheless, superintendent of the school district Robert Runcie claimed that the staff at Douglas High School never raised the issue of Cruz or his potential threat to student safety with him. Nor were those the only opportunities to intervene:
A report in August 2016 by the Florida Department of Children and Family that shows the agency investigated a Snapchat post showing Cruz cutting his arms and was told by Cruz that he “plans to go out and buy a gun.” The agency determined Cruz “to be stable enough not to be hospitalized,” according to the DCF report. DCF said in a statement it “relies on the expertise of mental health professionals and law enforcement and these records show that DCF took the steps to involve these partners in investigating this alleged abuse.” …
At least 20 calls for service in the last few years regarding Cruz for a variety of disturbance complaints, including fighting with his mother, who died in November after contracting pneumonia, authorities said. In a police report from Sept. 28, 2016, a therapist who went on one of the calls cleared Cruz, concluding he was “no threat to anyone or himself.”
Douglas High’s administration banned Cruz from carrying a backpack on campus after discovering he had bullets in it. Why didn’t that set off enough warning bells to take action? Runcie says that the law limits their range of action:
“But there are limitations for what we can do at a legal standpoint right now,” Runcie said. “If a student has serious issues, we collaborate when appropriate with law enforcement agencies on when to take action. But the big challenge, I believe, is that we have various agencies, including the school system, that are working really hard but in silos.”
Runcie said there isn’t a system available in which the schools, law enforcement, social service agencies and mental health agencies share information that could possibly connect the dots about a particular student.
“We’re gonna certainly review this and all of us in our respective areas are gonna figure out how we can improve on what we are doing,” Runcie said. “But at the end of the day, there’s got to be legislation, there has to be some type of infrastructure built so that we’re all working smarter instead of just harder in our own silos, if you will.”
Perhaps that’s where the focus of policymaking should be. The gun didn’t walk itself into Douglas High School, after all. Everyone knew Cruz was a threat, as Lopez tells Oquendo, so much so that she and her friends knew who had perpetrated the crime even while the shots were ringing out in another building. Lopez and her friends had been warning school officials for years, and law enforcement had been called two dozen or more times to deal with Cruz’ behavior. Every system failed these students long before Cruz began stalking victims in those hallways, and it’s not just the FBI who has to provide answers for those failures.