At a gobsmacking press conference the morning after the country’s latest public school mass shooting, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said an armed officer stationed on campus at the time never encountered suspect Nikolas Cruz as he gunned down 17 students and staffers both inside and outside the building.
And FBI Special Agent Robert Lasky told reporters the bureau had not been able to identify and track down the person who they had been notified about months earlier – a person who posted a comment on YouTube about plans to become a school mass shooter using the name “Nikolas Cruz.”
But, Israel said Thursday morning, Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, and Israel promised to work tirelessly to “make sure this person is convicted of all charges and justice is served.”
On Valentines Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the 19-year-old former student known to be into guns and have a chip on his shoulder is believed to have entered the building and pulled the school’s fire alarm to cause students and staff to exit their classrooms, leaving 17 dead and three more in critical condition. Cruz, who had been expelled from the school for disciplinary reasons, was apprehended about a mile from the campus, having made his escape among fleeing students.
Israel said his department was working with the FBI to talk to every person in that school who might know something connected to the shooting involving what authorities describe as AR-15 “type” weapon it appears the suspect obtained legally.
Israel confirmed reports of copycat threats at other local schools, promising they would be classified as something much stronger than “crank” calls. He said his department would respond in full to find the people making those calls and charge them with the “maximum charge we can for doing something so horrific, so pathetic.”
At Israel’s side, Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott, who took the microphone to thank the sheriff and his department for all their hard work and to vow to make sure justice prevails.
MSNBC viewers might have thought Scott looked a little singed around the edges, the cable news network having devoted a good-ish chunk of previous night torching Scott for doing so much to make it so easy for people to obtain such weapons of mass destruction.
Scott said he will sit down next week with state leaders to begin a “real conversation” about how to make sure individuals “with mental illness” do not touch a gun.
The governor issued the oft heard assurance that everyone’s “hearts and prayers are with these families” who have lost loved ones, assuring reporters he had spoken with some of the families Wednesday night to promise to “make sure this never happens again.”
“The violence has to stop,” Scott said. “We cannot lose another child in this country to violence in school.” Then he instructed reporters not to try to talk to grieving family members. “Give them their space…they need time to grieve,” he said.
He was followed by FBI special agent Robert Lasky, who is in charge of the bureau’s work on this particular mass shooting.
Lasky wasted no time getting to Buzzfeed’s report that YouTube vlogger Ben Bennight had warned the bureau months ago of an alarming comment left on one of his videos by a user named “Nikolas Cruz.”
Back in September, the 36-year-old Mississippi bail bondsman told Buzzfeed, he noticed a user named Nikolas Cruz had written: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” He notified the FBI and YouTube, and was quickly contacted by the bureau, meeting with an agent the next day. He did not hear from the FBI again until Wednesday, shortly after Cruz was taken into custody, Buzzfeed reported.
At Thursday morning’s presser, Lasky told reporters that FBI got nowhere on that lead because they could get “no other information” about Cruz, including any indication of the time he posted the comment, his location, or his “true identity.”
“The FBI was unable to further identify the person who made that comment,” Lasky said.