Parkland families unite in grief as it emerges the FBI missed key warnings about alleged shooter’s instability
It was a sound that cut to the core, the wail of a mother who had paced the floor and prayed for her missing child to be delivered back to her but who went home with her arms empty and her heart broken.
“It was a cry that pierced the heavens,” said Rabbi Moshe Rabin, recalling the moment he stood with Lori Alhadeff as officers broke the news that her daughter, Alyssa, 14, was among those killed inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The pain of America’s latest mass shooting deepened last night when the FBI revealed that it had failed to act on a tip-off received six weeks ago that the gunman may have been preparing a mass slaughter.
“It was a heart-wrenching experience,” said the rabbi, who waited with parents into the early hours after the Valentine’s Day massacre as investigators walked the school’s bullet-gouged hallways with photographs of the missing, matching names and faces to corpses.
“We tried to comfort and counsel them and hope for a miracle. I went to three regional hospitals looking for a child, hoping that maybe somebody made it,” the rabbi said. “Then that moment comes that you prayed would not. At that point you hug them and you cry with them. What else is there?”
Alyssa and another student, Meadow Pollack, 18, were laid to rest yesterday, the first of 17 funerals after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The FBI said that on January 5 “a person close to Nikolas Cruz” had called the agency’s tip-off line to report concerns over the 19-year-old former student. “The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behaviour and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.” The statement continued: “Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken. We have determined that these protocols were not followed . . . no further investigation was conducted.”
Christopher Wray, the FBI director, said: “We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened. It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly. We have spoken to victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.”
Rick Scott, the state’s Republican governor, called on Mr Wray to resign last night. “The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,” he said.
The information compounded the shock of a community that has spent three days asking how and why Cruz had been able legally to buy a .223-calibre AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle despite his known mental health problems, a litany of run-ins with law enforcement and public boasts that he aspired to be a killer. Grieving friends and families called for better protections for schools and a reform of gun laws. “I just saw my daughter, cold as can be, shot in the heart, shot in the head, shot in the hand. Dead,” Mrs Alhadeff told reporters yesterday.
“My child is dead and I can’t help her but I can help all those other kids at Stoneman Douglas High School and all the other kids in America and around the world. We have to protect our children, we have to fight for them.”
One teenager, Lewis Mizen, joined the school three years ago after moving from Coventry. “I have friends who have been killed, I have friends who have been shot” he told BBC Midlands. “How can this be real? This is the school I go to.”
Officials said that the school building where the shooting occurred would be torn down and replaced.
Last night President Trump and his wife, Melania, visited victims in hospital and met police officers who responded to the shooting. “What a great job you’ve done,” Mr Trump said. “I hope you get credit for it because believe me, you deserve it.”
Police logs revealed that officers had been summoned to the house where Cruz lived with his mother, Lynda, until her death in November, 39 times to deal with “disturbances” including violent behaviour, burglary and theft.
Cruz was expelled from Stoneman Douglas last year but was dropped off there by an Uber driver at 2.19pm on Wednesday, wearing a backpack and carrying the AR-15 in a black bag. As Cruz unpacked his gun in the lavatories, he turned to a student and said: “You’d better get out of here. Things are going to start getting messy.”
He fired about 150 rounds, wreaking carnage in halls and classrooms, before laying down his weapon and fleeing, blending in with students who were running from the school. In his backpack were 120 unused rounds. He headed on foot to a Walmart, where he stopped for a drink before walking to a McDonald’s. He was caught on a residential street.
At a sunset vigil held at a local park, people cheered their support for calls to action then wept as the names of the victims were read aloud. Some held up signs saying “Enough is enough”.
One person shouted that instead of cracking down on guns, the law should allow more to be carried in schools, for defence. The crowd raised their candles high and chanted resolutely over the top of him, their voices rising: “No more guns. No more guns.”
Hundreds of handwritten notes paid tribute to the deceased. “Fly high,” said one for Meadow Pollack. “Gina was the brightest person I’ve ever met,” read another, addressed to Gina Montalto, 14. “Dance your heart out up there, we’re going to miss you,” read a note in memory of Jaime Guttenberg, 14.
Scott Israel, the Broward county sheriff who lost a close friend in the shooting, confronted dignitaries, including Mr Scott, with a call to tighten gun controls or face defeat at the polls.
Among the crowd of several thousand stood white wooden crosses, one for each victim.
“My coach, my friend, a man loved by many. An American hero,” said a sign propped against a photograph of Aaron Feis, the school’s assistant football coach, who placed himself between his students and Cruz’s bullets.
The tragedy has galvanised the school’s 3,000 student community. Carolina Garcia, 19, said: “Preventing this from happening again is common sense, it’s not political.We have to hope and work for a better tomorrow.”