Some students in Parkland, Fla., said they knew about disturbing social media posts by the alleged gunman in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The posts, they said, suggested a penchant for violence.
But the top official in the Broward County school district said he did not know of those posts or other warning signs that Nikolas Cruz was a serious threat to his former school.
“We didn’t get any reports,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said in an interview. “There were no signs that we received from anyone. I think part of it was related to the fact that this student was really disengaged from school.”
Cruz, 19, was arraigned in a Florida courtroom on Thursday afternoon on 17 counts of premeditated murder. He had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
Authorities said he took an Uber to the high school on Wednesday afternoon, entered around dismissal time, and opened fire with an AR-15, killing 17 people, including staff and students.
CNN reported on Thursday that Cruz was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for threats he made online.
The report was related to a YouTube post under the name “Nikolas Cruz,” who wrote: ”Im [sic] going to be a professional school shooter,” according to the news channel.
Robert Lasky, the special agent in charge for the FBI, said at a news conference on Thursday that the YouTube posting came to the agency’s attention in 2017. The agency conducted a review, but the post did not have a specific date or location, and the agency was unable to identify who had made the comment, Lasky said.
The Associated Press reported that Jordan Jereb, the leader of a white nationalist group, said Cruz was a member of the Republic of Florida, which wants Florida to become a white ethno-state.
Neither the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee nor the Southern Poverty Law Center could confirm any link between Cruz and the militia.
Jereb appeared to back away from his claim later Thursday. Someone posting under his name on Gab, a social media site popular with far-right extremists, complained about getting criticized over a “prank,” claimed there was a “misunderstanding” and said he received “a bunch of conflicting information,” the Associated Press reported.
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN that Cruz had been treated at a mental-health clinic, but had not been to the clinic for more than a year.
“It wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him,” Furr said.
A Tip Line for Reporting Concerns
But it seems there may have been a major gap between what students may have thought of Cruz’s potential for danger and what school officials knew. Runcie acknowledged at a news conference Thursday that the district was providing supports for Cruz, but did not specify what they were.
But in an interview with Education Week, Runcie said he could not discuss the types of supports that Cruz was receiving, or any information about Cruz’s health or academic records without running afoul of federal student-privacy laws.
Cruz had been enrolled at a different district school, but he may have stopped attending, Runcie said.
Runcie said Broward County has a tip line, and both students and staff use it to report social media posts and other things that may cause alarm or suspicion. In one instance, a tip led authorities to search a young person’s home and retrieve firearms, he said.
“When they see things on social media, and they hear about something that’s not right, we get reports,” he said. “We’ve got a tip line. People call in. They send social media posts…We take all of those seriously. We investigate them, and we take precautions at the schools because we don’t want to be wrong once.
But nothing like that came to light in Cruz’s case, he said.
A portrait of a troubled Cruz emerged on Thursday. His mother died from pneumonia late last year and his father had died years earlier from a heart attack, according to the Associated Press. He had moved in with a friend’s family in Broward County.
Said Runcie: “If we know there are students out there—young people who are not in school, they are not connected to some kind of activity, they don’t have a mentor or somebody that’s on them or in their lives—that is a huge sign and recipe for trouble. We know that. This stuff is not rocket science.”
“We just need to be courageous to step up now and do the thing that’s right—put the investments where we need to prioritize them so we can keep our kids, our communities, and our country safe.”
At a Thursday news conference, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and other authorities urged people to say something if they see something that’s not right.
Educators ‘Sacrificed Their Lives’
Runcie said that teachers and staff did the best that they could with what they faced on Wednesday.
“Our first responders on the campus basically sacrificed their lives to help save our kids,” he said. “I believe that we did what we could have. There is never going to be any perfect scenarios for these situations when you are in it. We can look at it from afar and make assumptions.”
He singled out the two staff members who were killed—an athletic coach and a teacher—as “heroes.”
“All of those individuals were enormously respected and liked by the students,” he said. “They were literally our first responders.”
As soon as they realized that something was amiss, they stepped up, he said.
“They jumped into position, they got their radios, and they stepped up and put their lives on the line to avert an even larger tragedy,” he said.
“Their families and the community should be proud that they sacrificed themselves so our young people can have an opportunity to have a life and a future.”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will remain closed through the weekend, and the district will decide then when the school will re-open and how best to support students and staff when they return.
“Our focus is on our families, our students, and our staff,” Runcie said.
“We continue to ask folks for their prayers and their support,” he continued. “We thank everyone for the acts of kindness that we have seen and the generosity. We are going to continue to need that and a lot more of it as we go through this. ...This is going to last quite a while and we are just going to have to come together as a community to get ourselves to some level of normalcy at some point in the future. But it will never be the same.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.