President Donald Trump lashed out at the FBI late Saturday, describing its failure to follow up on a tip about Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz as “very sad.”
“This is an opportunity to put the criminal case behind and help the victims’ families begin to try and pick up pieces of their lives for our community to heal and to figure out how we stop these things from ever happening again,” said Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
Prosecutors, who would need to agree not to ask for capital punishment – by allowing life without parole, instead – could not immediately be reached for comment.
Finkelstein, whose office is representing the confessed killer, said there is no question Cruz is guilty of killing 14 students and three staff members in Parkland on Wednesday.
“The only question is, does he live or does he die?” Finkelstein said.
Gonzalez, whose palpable anger burst out in her words, demanded that laws change because she said they have not, while guns have changed.
The next court date is set for Monday morning, during which a judge will hear a defense motion unrelated to the possible plea.
• A person close to Cruz contacted the FBI on January 5 to report concerns about him, the bureau said.
• The defense team says NIkolas Cruz will plead guilty if prosecutors don’t seek the death penalty, but the state attorney won’t rule that out.
• President Donald Trump and the first lady visited wounded patients at a Florida hospital.
• Math teacher Jim Gard says an administrator sent an email in late 2016, asking to be notified if Cruz came on campus with a backpack. The administrator gave no explanation for the email, Gard said.
• An initial investigation indicates Cruz fired nearly 150 shots from his rifle, according to a law enforcement source speaking on condition of anonymity.
• Cruz purchased the firearm used in the shooting, an AR-15-style weapon, legally in Florida nearly a year ago, according to Peter J. Forcelli, special agent in charge of the Miami division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
• Cruz legally purchased at least five other guns in the past year, a law enforcement source briefed on the investigation said.
FBI says it failed to act on January tip
As the victims’ loved ones mourn, more signs are emerging that authorities missed opportunities to intervene weeks before the massacre.
The FBI has acknowledged receiving two tips that appear to relate to Cruz ahead of the shooting.
The agency said it failed to act on a January 5 tip about the former student.
The caller provided information about “Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”
The information should have been assessed as a “potential threat to life,” but the proper protocols weren’t followed and the FBI’s Miami office was not notified, the agency said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau is investigating what happened.
“We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy,” Wray said in a statement.
Also, a video blogger said he warned the FBI in September about a possible school shooting threat from a YouTube user with the same name as Cruz. An FBI agent confirmed a field officer in Jackson, Mississippi, received the tip and interviewed the person who shared it.
But no additional information was found to help identify the person who posted the comment and no connection was made to South Florida, said Robert Lasky, FBI special agent in charge of the Miami division.
Families demand action – now
The FBI’s announcement came as families prepared to bury their children.
Survivors and victims’ relatives are directing their ire at state and national politicians, demanding action and venting frustration over allegations that the 19-year-old suspect expressed a desire to commit exactly the kind of massacre of which he’s accused.
“President Trump, you say, ‘What can you do?’ You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools!” Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa, 14, was killed at the school, told CNN. Alyssa, one of 14 students and three staff members killed, was buried Friday.
At a vigil in Parkland on Thursday evening, Fred Guttenberg, the father of one victim, spoke of his pain.
“I sent her to school yesterday,” Guttenberg, his voice on the verge of breaking, said of his 14-year-old daughter Jaime. “She was supposed to be safe. My job is to protect my children and I sent my kid to school.”
“What is unfathomable is that Jaime took a bullet and is dead,” he paused, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I do next. … We are broken.”
President praises emergency workers
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump went Friday to the hospital where several injured victims remain.
Trump also visited the Broward County Sheriff’s Office headquarters, where he met with first responders who played a role in rescues and the arrest of the shooter.
“What a great job you’ve done and we appreciate it very much,” he said.
Trump told reporters at Broward Health North hospital that he spoke to victims, adding that it is “very sad something like that could happen.” The President heralded the efforts of the hospital staff and first responders to save lives.
Trump did not respond when asked whether more gun laws were needed to prevent school shootings.
Earlier, he pledged to hold a meeting with “the nation’s governors and attorney generals where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority.”
Social media posts
Cruz’s digital footprint includes slurs against blacks and Muslims, and declarations of a desire to shoot people. Other social media posts show a photo of a rifle, a collection of firearms on a bed and a photo taken through a scope looking out a window.
“I whana shoot people with my AR-15.”
“I wanna die Fighting killing s**t ton of people.”
On an Instagram account under the name @Nikolascruzmakarov, the profile picture shows a person wearing a mask and a “Make America Great Again” hat. Other posts include a photo of a rifle, a collection of firearms on a bed, and a photo taken through a scope looking out a window.
Also, Jim Gard, a math teacher at the school, said an administrator sent an email out in late 2016 asking staff to notify him if Cruz came on campus with a backpack. The administrator gave no explanation for the email, Gard said.
Cruz was in Gard’s class for only a couple of months and was never a problem, the teacher said.
‘Significant mental illness’
Cruz was staying with the family of someone he met at the high school after his adoptive parents died, said Jim Lewis, the host family’s attorney.
Cruz’s adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died in November of pneumonia, and his adoptive father passed away years ago, said Kathie Blaine, Lynda’s cousin.
After Lynda Cruz’s death, the family of someone Cruz met at the high school let him stay in their home, said Jim Lewis, the host family’s attorney.
The family knew he had a gun. “They had it locked up, and believed that that was going to be sufficient, that there wasn’t going to be a problem,” Lewis said.
The family was unaware of any mental illness beyond depression over his adoptive mother’s recent death, the lawyer said.
“Obviously, he’d lost his mom. But they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store. They got him going to an adult education so he could try to get his GED and he seemed to be doing better,” Lewis said.
But Gordon Weekes, executive chief assistant of Broward’s public defender’s office, said Thursday that Cruz is “suffering from significant mental illness and significant trauma.”
Before his mother died, Broward sheriff’s deputies were called to the Cruz family home 39 times since 2010, according to documents obtained by CNN.
The sheriff’s office received a range of emergency calls that included reports of a mentally ill person, child/elderly abuse, a domestic disturbance and a missing person.
There were 20 calls for service over the past “few years” pertaining to Cruz, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Suspect ‘remorseful,’ attorney says
Cruz is being held without bond after he attended via video a brief hearing Thursday in Broward County court.
“He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful,” said public defender Melisa McNeill, who is Cruz’s lead counsel. “He is fully aware of what is going on. He’s just a broken human being.”
Cruz entered the high school he had once attended on Wednesday at about 2:21 p.m., according to a law enforcement timeline.
In the minutes before the shooting, he exchanged texts with the son of his host family, a student at the high school who was there during the shooting.
They were messaging until 2:18 p.m., said Lewis, the attorney for the host family.
The texts were “very innocuous,” Lewis said. “They were just conversations about ‘Hey, what are you doing? What are you doing later? What’s goin’ on?’”
After the shooting, Cruz fled and was detained in a nearby community about 40 minutes later.
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Faith Karimi, Dakin Andone, Evan Perez, Brian Todd, Jose Pagliery, Eric Levenson, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Chris Boyette, Shimon Prokupecz and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.