FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Two students told investigators they reported the Broward County high school shooting suspect to an administrator for making threats but felt they were not taken seriously, a commission investigating the massacre was told Tuesday.
Pinellas County sheriff's Detective Chris Lyons told the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission that 30 people knew suspect Nikolas Cruz made threats and racist remarks, committed animal cruelty and engaged in odd behavior in the years before the February shooting that left 17 dead, but few reported it to police or school authorities.
Even when they reported the former Stoneman Douglas student, nothing happened, Lyons said.
"'See something, say something' means something, and it has to be more than a phrase," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission's chairman. "It has to resonate with the public because law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time."
The commission is using his detectives and other investigators from outside Broward County to conduct its investigation to avoid conflicts of interest.
In one case where a report was allegedly made, Lyons said two male students he did not name told investigators they reported Cruz to a Stoneman Douglas administrator in December 2016 after one of them said Cruz threatened to shoot up the school. They disagreed on whether they spoke to Principal Ty Thompson or Assistant Principal Jeff Morford, but agreed that the administrator dismissed their concerns and blamed Cruz's behavior on his autism. They said the administrator told them Cruz would be out of the school soon. Cruz was removed from the school three months later.
A mother of one of the teens said she spoke to Thompson the next day, upset with her son's treatment. She told investigators Thompson said that if she didn't like how the school was run, she should remove her son.
Thompson and Morford both told investigators the meetings never happened, but Gualtieri said other than the disagreement on which administrator they contacted, the boys' and mother's stories corroborated each other.
The Broward school district declined to make Thompson and Morford available for an interview.
Lyons also testified that:
— Several students told investigators Cruz brought knives, bullets, dead frogs and other small animals he had killed to school. One girl reportedly received a decapitated bird's head from him. Others said he made racist remarks about African-Americans and Jews and said he wanted to kill them. Few reported him.
— Cruz destroyed other students' class projects, telling a teacher he didn't want them to get a better grade than him.
— A gun store employee who sold a firearm to Cruz after he turned 18 in the presence of his mother, Lynda Cruz, received a call from her the next day. She asked him not to release the gun to him after the three-day waiting period if she wasn't there. When he pressed her on why, she hesitated then said he was young and she wanted him to be safe.
— A bank employee who had weekly phone conversations with Lynda Cruz said she often heard Nikolas in the background yelling at his mother. She said he threatened to kill his mother and burn down their house if she didn't kill herself. Lynda Cruz told the banker that Nikolas was "evil" and that if anything happened to her, tell the police it was her son. The banker never contacted police before Lynda Cruz died in November 2017 of pneumonia.
The commission is composed of law enforcement, education and child welfare officials from across the state along with the fathers of two students who were killed. They will file a report to Gov. Rick Scott on their findings and recommendations by Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime died in the shooting, filed suit Tuesday against the FBI for not acting on a call it received in January about Cruz threatening to shoot up the school. The FBI has admitted it botched the call.
Cruz, now 20, has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.