Plenty of warnings in Florida school shooting suspect's past, but 'we missed the signs'

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor

Former classmates of the suspect in Wednesday’s deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school say they weren’t surprised to discover he was the alleged gunman, but a Broward County commissioner admits officials “missed the signs.”

“I can’t say I was shocked,” Joshua Charo, a 16-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., told the Miami Herald. “From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior at the school, told the Associated Press.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Eddie Bonilla, another student, told CBS Miami. “A lot of kids joked around like that, saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. But it turns out everyone predicted it.”

Police say the 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 people and wounded at least a dozen others in the rampage. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters that Cruz had been expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.” Israel said that an “AR-15-style weapon” and “countless magazines” were recovered at the scene. According to the Associated Press, Cruz purchased the weapon legally about a year ago.

“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” Charo said. “He used to tell me he would shoot rats with his BB gun and he wanted this kind of gun, and how he liked to always shoot for practice.”

Mutchler said Cruz often boasted on Instagram about killing animals and that “he started progressively getting a little more weird.”

“He was that weird kid that you see,” Daniel Huerfano, another former classmate, told the AP. “Like a loner.”

Nikolas Cruz’s booking photo. (Photo: Broward County Jail via AP)

On Thursday, President Trump seemed to suggest that the community failed to report the warning signs to authorities.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” the president tweeted. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr admitted as much in an interview with NPR.

“We missed the signs,” Furr said. “We should have seen some of the signs.”

Furr told CNN that Cruz had been receiving treatment at a mental health clinic, but stopped going about a year ago.

“It wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him,” Furr said. “We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren’t connected.”

Parents wait for news after reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday. (Photo: Joel Auerbach/AP)

“Most teachers try to steer them toward some kind of connections,” he added. “In this case, we didn’t find a way to connect with this kid.”

Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he did not know of any threats posed by Cruz to the school.

“Typically you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there,” Runcie said. “I would be speculating at this point if there were, but we didn’t have any warnings. There weren’t any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made.”

But Jim Gard, a math teacher at the school, told the Miami Herald that administrators had identified Cruz as a potential threat.

Gard remembered that the school administration had previously sent out an email warning teachers about Cruz.

“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” Gard said. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

Israel said that investigators reviewing Cruz’s social media accounts found “disturbing” images of him brandishing weapons.

Police evacuate students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday. (Photo: Mike Stocker/ South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

At a press conference on Thursday morning, Israel urged the public to report changes in behavior to law enforcement.

“Don’t think about it. Call us,” Israel said. “If there’s something in your gut that tells you, ‘Something’s not right with this person — this person has the capabilities in my mind to do this or do that,’ please don’t remain silent.”

According to BuzzFeed, at least one person appears to have reported Cruz to authorities.

The site reports that in September, YouTube user Ben Bennight alerted the FBI that a commenter had posted an alarming remark on one of his videos.

“I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” wrote the commenter, named Nikolas Cruz.

According to Bennight, FBI agents conducted an in-person interview with him the following day.

“They came to my office the next morning and asked me if I knew anything about the person,” Bennight said. “I didn’t. They took a copy of the screenshot and that was the last I heard from them.”

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