The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left 17 people dead. After tragic events like this, authorities try to figure out how they may have missed warning signs. Most of them, anyhow. A new report is casting serious doubt on how Broward County handled Nikolas Cruz before the shooting. And how they have handled the aftermath is only making matters worse.
The report, published by the Sun Sentinel, shows that Broward County had no interest in learning from the tragedy. Instead the school system went into damage control mode and sought to protect itself.
The reason for the aggressive posture? The new report suggests that the school system was well aware of the dangers posed by Cruz and wanted to shield itself from litigation.
“For months, Broward schools delayed or withheld records, refused to publicly assess the role of employees, spread misinformation and even sought to jail reporters who published the truth,” the paper reported.
The county’s efforts were far reaching. They continue to refuse the release of some records. They paid $200,000 to a consultant who came in and advised everyone involved to stay quiet about anything they might know.
Superintendent Robert Runcie is denying that there’s been a cover up of any sort. “That can’t be characterized — and should not be characterized — as the district doesn’t want to provide more information,” he told reporters. “We work to be as transparent as possible. … We have nothing to hide.”
“There’s no conversation anywhere in this district about withholding any information that we can readily provide. I haven’t had those conversations. I haven’t heard about them.”
The paper points out that this is a familiar line for Runcie.
“Look, we want to be as transparent and as clear as possible,” Runcie said back in May. “It’s the only way that we’re going to get better as a school district, as a society, to make sure that we can put things in place so that these types of tragedies don’t happen again.”
“We cannot undo the heartbreak this attack has caused in the community,” he said in March, “but we can try to understand the conditions that led to such acts in hopes of avoiding them in the future.”
Yet no effort at transparency seems to have been made. Instead, the county hired a consultant to go back over the county’s paper-trail before the shooting. They were looking for anything damning regarding Cruz in order to “further assist the client in ongoing litigation matters.”
The Sun Sentinel was able to get a copy of the consultant’s report. The finding? “Cruz was deeply troubled; the district improperly withdrew support he needed; he asked for additional services; and the district bungled his request, leaving him spinning without help.”
The district knew Cruz was dangerous. “I’m a bad kid. I want to kill,” Cruz told one of his middle school teachers.
“I strongly feel that Nikolas is a danger to the students and faculty at this school,” Cruz’s eighth-grade wrote to the school. “I do not feel that he understands the difference between his violent video games and reality.”
Cruz “stated he felt nervous about one day going to jail and wondered what would happen to him if he did something bad,” another teacher reported.
“I would rather be on the street killing animals and setting fires,” Cruz told a teacher in 2013.
One parent even demanded that the school transfer her daughter out of the class Cruz was in, noting that she feared for her daughter’s safety.
So why hasn’t any of this become public before now? “At this time, any records pertaining to Stoneman Douglas High will not be released,” the school district’s risk management department said in a statement.
Employees of the school were officially sanctioned after it was discovered that some of them had been looking back at Cruz’s records after the shooting.
“At one point, the district said it would cost $2,600 for reporters to see copies of letters that teachers and staff sent to School Board members after the shooting. The district said it would charge $2,700 for Principal Ty Thompson’s emails related to Cruz, the tragedy and security.”
The handling of this disaster seems to continue to spiral out of control. Just what was known, and when, may never come to light. Yet the leaks continue to leak, so this may just be the beginning.