Serial Failure: Here's How Government Totally Dropped The Ball In Stopping Florida Shooter

Posted: Feb 23, 2018 9:00 PM
Serial Failure: Here's How Government Totally Dropped The Ball In Stopping Florida Shooter

Last Wednesday, Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people and wounded at least a dozen more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The tragedy has led to calls for stricter gun laws, specifically a renewed ban on so-called assault weapons. CNN held a town hall, which was more of a kangaroo court that devolved into a two-hour bashing on the National Rifle Association and law-abiding gun owners. It was incredibly revealing. It's the confiscatory ethos that’s embedded among those in the anti-gun Left that makes a conversation with these people next to impossible. Yet, let’s go into where Cruz could have been stopped because there were MANY red flags that were raise at the local, state, and federal level that were simply let to fall by the wayside. It’s a disconcerting history of failure. 

School Administration, Child Services, and Mental Health Professionals

Naples Daily News covered quite extensively how local authorities did not follow up on troubling signs that Cruz was mentally disturbed, to the point where invoking the Baker Act was a possibility. The law was passed in 2013, which states one could be prevented from buying a firearm or obtaining a concealed carry permit if they’re involuntarily committed at an approved facility for mental examination. Cruz began cutting himself in late 2016 following breaking up with his girlfriend. It was not acted upon, which has stunned some experts:

Nikolas Cruz DCF investigative summary by The News-Press on Scribd

Social workers, mental health counselors and school administrators — the front line of defense for many young adults — documented and dismissed red flags during home visits and school evaluations, the records show.


Police visited the family home dozens of times, but there is no indication what action, if any, officers took. As recently as January, the FBI received a tip about Cruz and his "desire to kill people," but the information was never forwarded for investigation, the bureau confirmed Friday.


Every single red flag was present,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein Howard Finkelstein. “If this kid was missed, there is no system.”

After learning Cruz was cutting himself in late 2016 following a breakup with his girlfriend, a DCF investigator became “concerned about the (Cruz) talk about wanting to purchase a gun and feeling depressed,” according to the agency’s investigation records.


School staff called Henderson Behavioral Health in Broward County after learning Cruz had cut himself and after a fight he had with another student. An Oct. 7, 2016, note by a DCF investigator indicates a school counselor said: "Henderson's Mobile crisis unit had been called out to the school and determined that he was not at risk to harm himself or others."

The Henderson crisis clinician treating Cruz said he found him stable enough not to be hospitalized under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows the state to commit people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

The counselor told the investigators that he had Cruz sign "a safety contract and the counseling services are in place at home now and will also continue in school," according to the report.

DCF investigators worried the assessment by the mental health clinic in Broward may be “premature.” But they punted the decision to Henderson.


The self-mutilation should have been a red flag that DCF pursued more aggressively, said Antonio Sanchez, adjunct professor at Miami-Dade College and former ranking command officer for several police agencies in Miami-Dade County.

"To me, that's shocking,” Sanchez said.

Cruz presented a clear threat to himself and others based on the self-mutilation, a frequent trigger for involuntary commitment, he said.

Had DCF or Henderson counselors committed Cruz, state law could have prevented him from buying the gun.

At MS Douglas High School, Cruz was a disciplinary nightmare, though federal rules and laws barred the school administration from expelling him:

You can’t just kick kids out of the public schools because you are afraid of them, or because they are hard to educate,” said Stephanie Langer, a Miami special education lawyer and advocate. “It has to be a balance, and I think it’s a really hard one.”

Since the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first law that articulated a federal role in enforcing the rights of disabled people, the laws surrounding the education of children with special needs have evolved. In general, school districts are required to provide kids with physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities a free education in the “least restrictive” setting, and to accommodate the needs of such students.

Defining the word “accommodate” has kept judges busy for decades.


Absent Cruz’s school records, it is hard to say precisely when Cruz’s behavior became an acute problem for teachers and administrators. Disciplinary reports obtained by the Herald show that at Westglades Middle School, which he attended in 2013, he’d been cited numerous times for disrupting class, unruly behavior, insulting or profane language, profanity toward staff, disobedience and other rules violations.

Records show the behaviors continued at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which he attended in 2016 and 2017 before being transferred, with discipline being dispensed for fighting, profanity, and an “assault.” It appears the Jan. 19, 2017 assault resulted in a referral for a “threat assessment.” A few months later, Cruz landed at an Off Campus Learning Center, where he remained for only about five months.

Local Law Enforcement

Deputies from Broward County’s Sherriff Department visited Cruz’s home 39 times over a seven-year period, adding that the nature of the visit centered on that of a “mentally ill person.” They also received some 18 calls between 2007 and 2017, with neighbors warning police that Cruz was someone who “planned to shoot up the school.” Nothing was ever done (via Naples Daily News):

The warnings, made by concerned people close to Cruz, came in phone calls to the Broward County Sheriff's Office, records show. At least five callers mentioned concern over his access to weapons, according to the documents. None of those warnings led to direct intervention.

In February 2016, neighbors told police that they were worried he “planned to shoot up the school” after seeing alarming pictures on Instagram showing Cruz brandishing guns.

About two months later, an unidentified caller told police that Cruz had been collecting guns and knives. The caller was “concerned (Cruz) will kill himself one day and believes he could be a school shooter in the making,” according to call details released by the Sheriff's Office.


The Sheriff’s Office has since opened two internal affairs investigations looking into whether its deputies followed the department’s standards after receiving two phone calls.

After the February 2016 call, a deputy forwarded the information to the Stoneman Douglas School Resource Officer, Deputy Scot Peterson.

Peterson was the officer who waited outside of the building and failed to engage Cruz on the day of the shooting. The hooting lasted six minutes; Peterson remained idle for four minutes. He has since resigned after video footage caught him doing nothing as the rampage occurred at the school. 

His first host family reported that Cruz had threatened people with firearms, even holding them to peoples’ heads:

Just months before Nikolas Cruz killed 17 at his former high school in South Florida, the host family who had taken him in immediately after his mother's death warned local law enforcement that the 19-year-old had "used a gun against people before" and "has put the gun to others' heads in the past," according to records obtained by CNN.

It's the latest indication of how law enforcement encountered warning signs about Cruz's violent behavior before he attacked students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day.

CNN has obtained records from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office that detail deputies' interactions with Cruz in the home where he lived for a few weeks in November, before he moved in with another family, the Sneads, and months before the massacre.

In November, Cruz's mother died after being diagnosed with pneumonia. Lynda Cruz was a widow raising her two adopted teenage boys by herself in Broward County, according to acquaintances CNN interviewed. Without anyone to turn to after their mother's death, Nikolas Cruz and his younger brother Zachary were both taken in by Rocxanne Deschamps, a former neighbor who had been close to the family.


On the day after Thanksgiving, Cruz was at work at a Dollar Tree store. Rocxanne Deschamps' son, Rock, 22, called 911 to report that an "adopted 19-year-old son" had possibly hidden a "gun in the backyard," according to a dispatcher's notes. Rock Deschamps told law enforcement "there were no weapons allowed in the household," the report said. It's unclear from the record whether sheriff's deputies conducted a search. The incident was classified as "domestic unfounded," which means a deputy didn't find proof to back up the claims.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office was called again to the home four days later, when Rock said Cruz lashed out against the family that took him in, according to the Palm Beach deputy's report and dispatcher notes. The deputy went to a local park and found Cruz, who explained that he had misplaced a photo of his recently deceased mother and, emotionally distraught, began punching the wall. Cruz lost control the same way he had several times in the past at his mother's home in Parkland, Florida, when he had not taken his prescribed mood-altering medication, as CNN has previously reported based on Broward police documents.

Rock interrupted Cruz and a fight broke out between them, according to the documents. Cruz left the home, and Rocxanne Deschamps called 911. She warned the police dispatcher that Cruz said "he was going to get his gun and come back," records show. She said Cruz had "bought a gun from Dick's last week and is now going to pick it up."

Rocxanne Deschamps told the dispatcher that Cruz had "bought tons of ammo" and "has used a gun against ppl before," the notes said. "He has put the gun to others heads in the past."

Vice News compiled the times the authorities were called on Cruz, including the day of the shooting—February 14—where he was reported by a school employee that he was walking with purpose on campus. Cruz was expelled in February of 2017. The two resource officers on campus were not able to respond in time. And as we know now, didn’t even engage Cruz. 


The FBI received a tip on Cruz on January 5 that was never forwarded to their Miami office. Protocols were never followed, something that FBI Director Chris Wray admitted last week. The transcript of that phone call has been released, and the details are disturbing. The FBI also received information of an online threat that Cruz reportedly made in the comments section of a YouTuber in September of 2017. The FBI said they could not verify the claim. The username for the YouTube account that posted the threatening comment was “nikolas cruz”  (via WSJ): 

The caller began by saying Mr. Cruz had the mental capacity of a 12- or 14-year-old. She said he had started posting messages on his Instagram account that he wanted to kill himself and she’d alerted police to that threat, but wasn’t sure what happened in that investigation.

More recently, Mr. Cruz “switched it to he wants to kill people,” the unidentified woman told the operator in a somewhat rambling conversation.

“Something is gonna happen,” she said. “Because he’s, he doesn’t have the mental capacity. He can’t, he’s so outraged if someone talks to him about certain things.”

The woman provided a number of specifics about Mr. Cruz, identifying him by name, saying he lived in Parkland, Fla., naming his workplace and giving the address and number of the family with whom he was staying.

The caller described disturbing behavior by Mr. Cruz, including a propensity for cutting up frogs and, at least on one occasion, a bird.

“He brought the bird into the house,” she recounted. “He threw it on his mother’s kitchen counter and he started cutting it up. He has all kinds of hunting knives. I don’t know what knife he used, though. And he started cutting the bird up, and his mother…said, ‘What’re you doing?’ And he says, ‘I want to see what’s inside.’”

Then the caller said, “That to me would be a red flag.”


The FBI last week issued a statement disclosing that the call wasn’t passed on to its Miami field office for investigation.

At all levels, government and authorities from state, local, and federal agencies failed to catch this kid. And while the Baker Act does not give police the power to confiscate firearms of a disturbed individual, there was certainly enough for a complimentary court order that could have empowered law enforcement to do that.  They either didn’t act on the reports of Cruz’s threatening and disturbing behavior or kicked this troubled young man to another agency for them to handle. Cruz had brought ammunition on campus, which led to him being suspended. Jim Gard, a math teach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, said in November or December of 2016 an email was sent from a school administrator asking to be notified if Cruz came onto school ground with a backpack. This shooting was avoidable. Cruz could have been prevented at multiple levels from obtaining firearms through administrative measures. The FBI could have forwarded the tip to their Miami office. And on the day of the shooting, the Broward County Sheriff’s Department could have engaged Cruz and possibly saved lives. They did not. We know that it wasn’t just Scot Peterson who failed to act, but three other deputies didn’t go into the school either (via CNN) [emphasis mine]:

When Coral Springs police officers arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14 in the midst of the school shooting crisis, many officers were surprised to find not only that Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson, the armed school resource officer, had not entered the building, but that three other Broward County Sheriff's deputies were also outside the school and had not entered, Coral Springs sources tell CNN. The deputies had their pistols drawn and were behind their vehicles, the sources said, and not one of them had gone into the school.

With direction from the Broward deputies who were outside, Coral Springs police soon entered the building where the shooter was. New Broward County Sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene, and two of those deputies and an officer from Sunrise, Florida, joined the Coral Springs police as they went into the building.

This is becoming a story less about AR-15s and more about government failure and school safety. In all, it’s a tragic and disconcerting story about how government failed to protect us—and how some systems, especially ones centered on mental health—need serious reform.