The Missed Warning Signs In The Parkland School Shooting

Feb 23, 2018

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has developed into a narrative of missed warning signs.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced the latest admission last weeks. The school resource officer on duty Scot Peterson did not enter the building where alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz had opened fire.

Peterson heard the shooting and rushed to the building. But he decided to wait outside for four minutes. The shooting lasted about six minutes.

According to officials, Peterson was suspended without pay and placed under investigation. He later retired from the force.

Since the Valentine Day's shooting, other missed opportunities have surfaced. Callers warned law enforcement at four times over the past two years about Cruz’s threatening behavior and access to guns. Broward County sheriff deputies were called to Cruz’s mother’s home 39 times, several of them allegedly involving Cruz’s violent outbursts. And the Florida Department of Children and Families released a report showing Cruz suffered from depression, ADHD and autism.

The past aside, politicians are wrestling with the future of gun control in Florida and nationwide. The Florida House refused to hear a bill banning assault weapons. Sen. Marco Rubio reconsidered his support for large capacity magazines. Gov. Rick Scott held workshops on improving school safety and access to mental health resources.

Then on Friday, Scott released a plan to improve safety that includes $500 million in spending for mental health and school security. The plan would also raise the minimum gun-buying age to 21 and enhance criminal penalties for threats made on social media.

In a separate plan, state lawmakers proposed a three-day waiting period for most firearm purchases. They also want a program to train and arm teachers and administrators on school grounds. 

In the midst of the politicking and investigating, the Parkland community processes the aftermath of the shooting. Funerals continued. School staff returned to campus. Students, some of whom have become the face of the #NeverAgain movement, will be back in class on Wednesday, Feb. 28. 

Read more: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Alumni Sent Message To Survivors: 'We Stand With You'

WLRN’s Tom Hudson explored these avenues with Miami Herald investigative reporter Carol Marbin Miller and WLRN education reporter Jessica Bakeman last week on the Florida Roundup. 

 

The following is an edited excerpt of the conversation. 

WLRN: What have you learned about the records you've been able to see from the Department of Children and Families in regards to its interaction with Nicholas Cruz and his family?

MARBIN MILLER: In 2016 DCF received what's called an Adult Protective Services complaint that Nicholas [Cruz] was being neglected by his mother. That was investigated and DCF concluded that there was no abuse or neglect on the part of his mom, Linda Cruz. But in the course of conducting that investigation DCF learned that there were troubling signs with Nicholas Cruz. There were allegations that he had been cutting himself, which is a very strong sign of the potential for mental illness. There were allegations that he wanted to go buy a gun. This was a case that I thought probably could have been better investigated. The counselor, who I think had phoned the hotline, never returned calls from DCF. The school resource officer refused to speak with the investigator. And so at a moment in time where they had an opportunity to intervene, there was no intervention.

WLRN: You have reported on the systemic failures of this system for a good long time. How much of this rings familiar to you? How much of it is something you haven't necessarily seen before?

MARBIN MILLER: What I think is remarkable about Nicholas Cruz's case is that there were opportunities involving a multitude of public agencies and virtually if not every single case the opportunities were lost. The FBI received a tip that Nicholas wanted to be a school shooter. They dropped the ball. The sheriff's office had numerous encounters with Nicholas Cruz and his family and they did nothing. DCF had one opportunity that I think you could argue was squandered. The school system had multiple opportunities to intervene and did not. And that is what I think is so remarkable about this case, had any one of those institutions intervened, taken the opportunity that was afforded them and done something we might not be sitting here today talking about it.

WLRN: The governor is talking about establishing funding to require access to dedicated mental health counselors to provide direct counseling services to students at every school. How big of a departure is that from what we have today?

BAKEMAN: I would think that that varies really widely from school to school. And I mean that's true about any kind of resource. It varies widely from district to district. I think that the governor is saying he wants to put $500 million into mental health resources and that if we have to forego tax cuts in order to get it there, so be it he said, which is a big deal coming from him as he's focused so much on tax cuts. But obviously we know that he is considering running for U.S. Senate. And so he might be trying to make that kind of statewide appeal.

WLRN: What do you make of some of this focus on mental health broadly speaking from the governor, but also as it relates to the engagement with schools?

MARBIN MILLER: Florida is at or near the very bottom among states for investment in mental health services. That has always been so. And in Florida it takes a crisis invariably before the legislature, before leaders will act when it comes to social welfare programs. This is no exception. My opinion on this is: why do we always, always wait until something tragic, something horrible happens before we invest in the needs of our children and our most vulnerable.

BAKEMAN: That's one of my big questions. Even if this influx of money happens, is it going to be recurring? Can our leaders say that this need didn't exist before this shooting?