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

This composite images shows on the flet, Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott (Photo by Joe Radlle /Getty) and on the right FBI Director Christopher Wray (photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP). (AFP)
PARKLAND, Florida: 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 called 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 behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” it said.
The tip appeared unrelated to a previously reported YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI has acknowledged getting that tip as well but failing to connect it to Cruz, who is accused of carrying out Wednesday’s mass shooting with an AR-15-style assault rifle.
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 US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had ordered a review of the bureau and Department of Justice 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 fumble.
“The FBI apologized? Tell that to families,” said Richman, 53, an advertising executive who lives in Parkland. “Everybody always tells you ‘when you see something, say something.’ Well, here people were seeing something and saying something and it still happened.”
The FBI said the information on Cruz should have been forwarded to its Miami field 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.
The killings in the affluent Miami suburb of Parkland have raised concerns about potential failures in school security and stirred the ongoing US debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
The sheriff of Broward County where the shootings took place said in a Friday press conference that authorities had received around 20 “calls for service” in the last few years regarding Cruz.
The sheriff, Scott Israel, said not all of the calls had resulted in the dispatch of law enforcement officers but added that his office would scrutinize them all to see if they were properly handled.
Leaders including US President Donald Trump have linked mental illness to Wednesday’s violence, suggesting that it was the public’s responsibility to warn officials of such dangers.
Cruz, who had been expelled for undisclosed disciplinary reasons from the school where he allegedly staged his attack, made a brief court appearance on Thursday and was ordered held without bond.
“He’s a broken human being,” his lawyer, public defender Melissa McNeill, told reporters. “He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful.”
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.
“No parents are going to want to send their children back into that annex, no one is going to want to go there,” said Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine.
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.