Federal Bureau Of Incompetence

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.”

Nikolas-Cruz-919429And 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.

Death At The Schoolhouse Door

I loved elementary school when I was a kid.  I loved my teachers, I loved the principal Mrs. Owens, and I loved the brick building, and the chalkboards, and the desks, and the old hallways that smelled of varnish and cleaning fluids.

I always felt safe and happy when I was in school.  It was where I went to learn from teachers and act in school plays and sing in the school chorus.  The only small sign that there was a dangerous world outside the double doors was our periodic “duck and cover” exercise and trip down to the basement in the event of a nuclear attack.  I cannot imagine what it would be like, as a grade school student, to walk down the school hallway and see a gunman shooting into classrooms.  There could not be a more jarring disconnect, to my sheltered little world, than violence of any kind at a school.

But that was the early 1960s, and this is 2012.  It seems like every year we deal with a horrible new school shooting tragedy, like the one this morning at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that left at least 27 people dead — 18 of them students.  18 children gunned down at their schoolhouse!  The parents of those 18 murdered children left with awful holes in their lives and a surging feeling of rage and disgust that a gunman would shoot down innocent children.  Countless other little kids who survived, but who are devastated and traumatized, and countless parents who wonder what the hell they can do to try to keep their children safe and sound in this increasingly random, violent world.  We know that what happened in Newtown could easily happen anywhere.

Where have we gone wrong?  How have schools been turned from places of order and learning into charnel houses and shooting galleries for deeply disturbed, heavily armed people?

We need to figure out what has happened and fix it, fast.  A society will not be able to endure for long if parents can’t feel secure about sending their children to a place of public education.

It just breaks my heart that happy little kids sitting at their desks on a Friday morning, no doubt thinking about their upcoming holiday break, could be shot dead.  What could be worse than this?

Another Senseless School Shooting

It is hard for me to imagine what the parents of high school students in Chardon, Ohio must be thinking tonight.  One student was killed and four more were injured after a student went on a shooting rampage at the Chardon High School this morning.

As parents, we struggle with the awful randomness of events like this.  You send your children off to a school that is just like thousands of others, and then one day you receive the horrible news that your child’s unremarkable school has been the scene of a remarkable and tragic event.

Notwithstanding a lot of speculation — much of it offered without a lot of factual basis — it is not yet clear why the shooter acted as he did.  The parents of students who were victims must wonder whether their children were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and struggle with why the shooter, among the many students are dealing with significant issues in high schools across the country, decided to act out his problems so violently.

Are we to the point where another school shooting seems commonplace, and is no longer capable of generating outrage?  If so, we should fear for our future.  If our children cannot go to a public school without fear that they might be gunned down by a troubled classmate, or by a disgruntled nut, then we have lost an essential part of what makes up a civilized country.  A society that cannot provide for safe education for its youth is hard-pressed to call itself a society at all.