FBI admits failure to act on Florida school gunman, draws anger

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson
FBI admits failure to act on Florida school gunman, draws anger

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday said it failed to act on a tip that the teenager accused of killing 17 people in Florida had guns and the desire to kill, drawing calls from Florida's Republican governor for the FBI director to resign.

A person close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz contacted an FBI tip line on Jan. 5 to report concerns about him, the FBI said in a statement.

"The caller provided information about Cruz's gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behaviour, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting," it said.

The tip followed a previous report to the FBI about a YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The FBI said it failed to connect that comment to Cruz, who is accused of carrying out Wednesday's mass shooting with an AR-15-style assault rifle.

The FBI fumble was met with anger in Florida days after President Donald Trump appeared to chastise local residents for failing to alert authorities to Cruz's sometimes erratic and violent behaviour prior to his alleged shooting rampage.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said FBI Director Christopher Wray should step down over the agency's mishandling of the tip.

“The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable," Scott said in a statement. "We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act."

Other Republicans including Florida Senator Marco Rubio also harshly criticized the FBI and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had ordered a review of the bureau's procedures following the shooting.

At the funeral for massacre victim Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior who had been headed to university, family friend Jeff Richman expressed disbelief at the FBI miscue.

"The FBI apologised? Tell that to families," said Richman, 53, an advertising executive who lives in Parkland.

The FBI said the information on Cruz should have been forwarded to its Miami office and investigated, but that never happened.

"We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy," Wray said in a statement.


"ONLY ONE TO BLAME"

The massacre in the affluent Miami suburb of Parkland has raised concerns about potential failures in school security and stirred the ongoing U.S. debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The sheriff of Broward County where the shootings took place told a news conference his office had received about 20 "calls for service" in the last few years regarding Cruz and would scrutinize all of them to see if they were handled properly.

The sheriff, Scott Israel, also suggested that law enforcement should not be held responsible for Wednesday's tragedy.

"At the end of the day, make no mistake about it America, the only one to blame for this killing is the killer himself," he said.

Leaders including Trump have said mental illness sparked Wednesday's alleged slaughter by Cruz, who had been expelled for undisclosed disciplinary reasons from the school where the attack took place.

But some families and friends of shooting victims have blamed Florida's lenient gun laws, which allow an 18-year-old to buy an assault rifle. Outside a vigil on Friday, a sign read: "Kids don’t need guns. No guns under 21."

Wednesday's shooting ranks as the greatest loss of life from school gun violence since the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first-graders and six adult educators dead.

Broward County officials have called for the demolition of the school building where the killings took place and a memorial to be built in its place.

Trump tweeted on Friday morning that he would leave for Florida later in the day to meet people whose "lives had been totally shattered" by the shooting.

The vice mayor of Broward County, a strongly Democratic area, blasted any visit by Trump, saying Republicans had failed to back common sense gun laws and had rolled back measures that made it harder for severely mentally ill people to buy weapons.

"Him coming here is absolutely absurd, and he's a hypocrite," Mark Bogen told CNN in an interview following Trump's tweet.


(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown)