In the wake of the latest awful school shooting, in which 17 students and teachers were killed in Florida and another 15 people were injured, there has been a lot of talk about guns and gun control. That debate is entirely warranted, but I hope that there is also room for broad discussion about the performance of law enforcement agencies — from the FBI on down.
Last month, the FBI received a specific, credible warning about the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz. A person close to Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line on January 5 and described Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill others, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts. The FBI acknowledged that it received the tip — but did nothing, in violation of its own internal rules. In a statement, the Bureau said: “Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.”
And it certainly appears that, if somebody from the FBI had actually looked into the tip, they would have found a lot of very disturbing information about Cruz, from troubles in school and a recommendation that a “threat assessment” be performed on Cruz, to a self-mutilation post and other troubling activities on social media and a comment on a blog about being a “professional school shooter,” to multiple calls about Cruz and his erratic behavior to the local sheriff’s office. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that, if somebody had just followed up on the tip, the massacre might have been avoided.
A statement from Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, about the FBI’s failure to act said: “We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter, as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public.” He also said: “It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.” But in this instance, Americans were vigilant and did report on concerns arising from disturbing behavior — and the FBI totally dropped the ball.
According to its website, about 35,000 people work for the FBI. The Agency’s annual budget is more than $8 billion. In short, the FBI has a lot of resources. Given the number of mass shootings we’ve seen in this country, in schools and otherwise, it’s unfathomable that a credible tip to the FBI about a potential mass killer would be ignored. If the FBI doesn’t follow up on such tips, what in the world is it doing? And while it’s nice to know that FBI Director Wray is going to investigate the Bureau’s failure to investigate the tip about Nikolas Cruz, we might want to make sure that the FBI’s conduct is investigated by people who won’t drop the ball this time.