Missed Opportunities

I’ve been putting this off for days, hoping that some sense of sanity would prevail, that people of good faith would calm down, abandon the emotional hyperbole and actually at least glance at the facts. That has not happened. In fact, the more facts that come out the more people seem to willingly ignore them, discount them or seek to argue against their veracity.

Let me state this before going any further, Nikolas Cruz alone is responsible for the horror visited on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.

That is indisputable. However, as more facts come out about the shooter and the circumstances leading up to the shooting, it becomes obvious that a number of law enforcement, public health and school agencies missed dozens of opportunities to stop Cruz. The level of the threat he posed was underestimated or ignored. Protocol was ignored, lazy and sloppy investigative procedures were halfheartedly employed, policies and laws were circumvented and cowardly dereliction of duty all failed the students at that school.

These are facts that have been and are being reported by a wide range of national news organizations, including The New York Times, CNN, USA Today, NBC News, Fox News, NPR, Time and others. I am not making this stuff up, misinterpreting the data or exaggerating.

I cite those sources in light of some of the comments I’ve heard and posts I’ve read on social media that are at best gross misinterpretations and at worst out-and-out lies employed to gain political capital.

It saddens me and makes me fear for the potential of rational discussion when I see people I know to be intelligent, caring, normally rational people employ these tactics and more as an emotional knee jerk response to the terrible incident in Parkland. I fear because I have called several of these folks out on the fallacy of their statements and rather than admit they may spoken in error, without vetting their source, they redirect and misdirect the argument, apparently believing that a lie is permissible because it “feels like it ought to be true,” it furthers their argument or confirms their emotionally based beliefs.

These are not extreme left or right wing individuals. As I said, they are good people, caring people, often people of great faith and conviction. But the horror of yet another slaughter of innocents by a troubled, murderous individual who used a firearm somehow triggers in these friends and loved ones of mine an abandonment of their reason and, in most of these cases, superior intellects.

As early as 2011 local law enforcement and public health agencies had been called concerning Cruz and issues including domestic disturbances, elder abuse and animal abuse. In every instance he was deemed to be a low risk of harming himself or others.

More recently the FBI was notified of the potential danger Cruz posed by individuals reporting posts on social media made by Cruz that stated he wanted to “shoot up his school” and “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI were unable to determine Cruz’s identity, even though his user name on at least one of those accounts was his actual name. The bureau also neglected to pass the information on to the proper offices or simply underestimated the threat.

During his time as a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Cruz was often in trouble for abusive language, fighting and even bringing a knife and bullets to school. The school’s response? They forbade him from carrying a backpack, suspended him and finally expelled him.

Why bother listing all these offenses now? Well, for one, one of the most prevalent responses to these types of tragedies is a call for more and/or tougher laws. But, at least in the case of Nikolas Cruz, the laws already in effect would have most likely been enough to stop him. They would have, at the very least, been enough to stop him from legally purchasing a firearm IF. If any one of the agencies who were made aware of the potential for violence that festered in Cruz had acted according to the law and their own policies.

At the very least, had Cruz been arrested and sentenced or hospitalized based on any of the dozens of reports made on him he would not have passed the mandatory FBI background check when he attempted a legal firearm purchase. If he had been jailed or hospitalized there’s the chance that instead of shooting up a school he would have been in a jail cell or hospital room.

If the administration at his school had reported even only the worst of his behavior, bringing a weapon to school or fighting, which constitutes assault in the state of Florida, the potential outcomes listed above would have also kicked in. But, according to NPR, the Broward County Board of Education adopted a policy of NOT informing police about student non-violent misdemeanors, because doing so was viewed as a “school to prison pipeline.” I have seen some accusations that the reason was more nefarious, it was an attempt to “improve the numbers” of the district and maintain maximum federal funding.

The final missed opportunity to stop Cruz was at the scene when Scot Peterson, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office school resource officer assigned to the school, waited outside the building where Cruz was firing his weapon and never went in. Sheriff Scott Israel said that Peterson “clearly knew a shooter was inside, but waited outside for four minutes while the killing continued.”

Peterson was suspended without pay, but chose to resign. He had enough time with the force to meet the requirements for retirements so, Israel said, “he resigned slash retired.” The sheriff added that Peterson should have gone in, “addressed the killer, killed the killer.” Reports are that Peterson’s home is now being protected by up to a half dozen police officers. Hopefully they’re better at their jobs than Peterson was at his.

I will say it again, Nikolas Cruz alone is responsible for the horror visited on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. That is indisputable.

One of those dear friends I mentioned earlier in this post asked me, after I’d replied to something that they had posted on social media that was so far from the truth as to be laughable, “I’m just angry and saddened by this, what would you do to keep this from happening again?” Well, since you asked. In this particular instance at least, it seems that laws already on the books should have been enough to at least keep Cruz from legally purchasing a firearm and at best could have landed him in jail or a psychiatric facility before he had a chance to gun down students and faculty.

But the laws were circumvented, ignored or the agencies tasked with enforcing them were negligent in their duties, in some cases maybe criminally so. Scot Peterson has resigned. He should not be the only one forced to do so. But that does not address the issue of preventing a next time, something no one wants to see happen.

The FBI, local law enforcement, public health agencies and boards of education and school administrators must be encouraged, cajoled and directed to take appropriate action when confronted with reports of potential dangers as they all were in this case.

And states must be made to comply with the requirements to report to the FBI NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System). I’ve seen reports that state only 38 of the 50 states report any information to the system. Even the US military doesn’t regularly report to NICS, as was revealed in the aftermath of the church shooting in Texas in 2017. The shooter in that event had been court-martialed by the Air Force for spouse and child abuse, but the Air Force never reported it to NICS and the shooter was able to legally purchase a firearm because the FBI did not have that information in their system.

It seems to me that before we jump to actions based primarily on emotion without considering whether or not those actions will have the desired outcome (other than, that is, assuaging our desire to “just do something already”) that we make sure that the laws we already have on the books are actually followed by those officials who are supposed to enforce and follow them.

Those are the facts in this issue and the most logical conclusion I see. I could say more, but it’s late and I do not wish to venture into the sphere of opinion any further. My hope is that people on all sides of this issue will put away the vitriol, examine the facts and seek solutions which will actually work.

One comment

  1. One important area people could “do something” about without waiting for new bills or laws to go into effect, is this …. How many schools have now gone through their school and reviewed entrance/exit points of the school building? Alarming doors is a start, not enabling entrance except for One main entrance. At this security cameras could/should be installed …. That is a start, one that could take place immediately. Think about it, you can’t enter a movie theater except for the main entrance ….

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