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FBI details mistakes, missed opportunities to intervene before Florida school shooting

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The FBI has detailed to Congress a series of mistakes and missed opportunities to intervene before a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school last month, killing 17 people.

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich met with members of the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday to brief them on how the Bureau handled tips about the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz.

Related:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy released a joint statement on Wednesday summarizing the key takeaways from the briefing: 

“Opportunities were missed.”

  • In September 2017, the FBI received an Internet tip from a video blogger about a threatening comment posted to a YouTube video the blogger had posted. The comment stated, “I am going to be a professional school shooter,” and was posted under the username “nikolas cruz.”
  • The Internet tip was routed to an FBI office in Mississippi, which, after interviewing the video blogger and conducting social media searches, closed the case in October 2017 because it lacked personal identifiable information on the user who posted the threatening comment. The agents tasked with the case could have requested assistance from YouTube to attempt to identify the user who left the comment, but determined that the United States Attorney’s Office in that region was unlikely to agree to such a request.
  • In January 2018, a friend of the Cruz family called the FBI tip line to report Nikolas Cruz’s troubling behavior and disturbing social media posts. The caller noted that local authorities in Parkland had also been notified of Cruz’s threatening behavior. According to Deputy Director Bowdich, the caller provided sufficient information to the tip line for the FBI to launch a probe. He noted, however, that the call taker did not ask any standard investigative probing questions during the call.
  • Following the tip, the call taker spoke with a supervisor but their conversation was not documented. At the time, the call taker was able to connect information about Nikolas Cruz to the September 2017 tip about the threatening YouTube comment. Despite these connected dots, the call taker and supervisor decided to not pursue the matter further and the case was closed. Further, the FBI did not contact local authorities in Parkland even though the caller stated that Parkland police had also been notified about Cruz’s disturbing behavior.
  • Despite multiple opportunities, the FBI did not share information with state and local authorities. Better information sharing between federal and local law enforcement may have prevented the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“FBI admits failures and will take corrective actions.”

  • Deputy Director Bowdich admitted there were failures and that corrective actions will be taken. The FBI has launched separate reviews of the September 2017 and January 2018 tips regarding Nikolas Cruz. 
  • According to the Deputy Director, a preliminary report recommends stronger oversight of the tip line and better training for the tip line’s call takers and supervisors. The preliminary report also recommends better documentation for the interaction between call takers and supervisors.
  • The House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will review the final report once it is issued to ensure all finalized recommendations are implemented. It will also review our laws to see if information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement can be improved to enhance public safety.
  • During the briefing, members also expressed concerns about whether the FBI has the capability and authority to screen social media for certain phrases, such as “school shooting.” The FBI plans to provide information to the Committees on this matter. 

Mary Stringini is a Digital Producer at ABC Action News. Follow her on Twitter @MaryWFTS.

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