FBI director's resignation demanded after agency admits it got tip Florida shooter had 'desire to kill'

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is demanding the immediate resignation of the FBI director after the agency admitted they failed to take action on a tip that the suspect in the Florida school shooting had a "desire to kill," access to guns and could be plotting an attack.

Florida school massacre the latest incident to raise questions about whether agency is missing warning signs

Officials are looking into whether authorities missed other warning signs about the potentially violent nature of Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in this week's Florida high school shooting. (Susan Stocker/Reuters)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is demanding the immediate resignation of the FBI director after the agency admitted it failed to take action on a tip that suspect Nikolas Cruz in the Florida school shooting had a "desire to kill," access to guns and could be plotting an attack.

"The FBI's failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable. The FBI has admitted that they were contacted last month by a person who called to inform them of Cruz's 'desire to kill people,' and 'the potential of him conducting a school shooting,'" Scott said in a statement.

"We constantly promote 'see something, say something,' and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act. 'See something, say something' is an incredibly important tool, and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI director needs to resign."

The call comes as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an immediate review of the Department of Justice and FBI processes in the wake of the admission.

Warning signs missed, says Sessions

Sessions said Friday the shooting that killed 17 people was a "tragic consequence" of the FBI's failures. He said it's now clear that the nation's premier law enforcement agency missed warning signs.

In more evidence that Cruz's behaviour had been reported to more than one law enforcement agency, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a Friday news conference that his office had received more than 20 calls about him in the past few years.

The FBI review will include a look at what went wrong and how the agency and Justice Department respond. Sessions said it may include "possible consultation with family members, mental health officials, school officials and local law enforcement."
This photo on the Instagram account of Nikolas Cruz shows weapons lying on a bed. Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder a day after a school schooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Instagram/Associated Press)

A person who was close to Cruz called the FBI's tip line on Jan. 5 and provided information about Cruz's weapons and his erratic behaviour, including his disturbing social media posts. The caller was concerned that Cruz could attack a school.

In a statement, the agency acknowledged that the tip should have been shared with the FBI's Miami office and investigated, but it was not. 

"Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to 
life," the FBI statement said.

'Protocols were not followed'

"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."

Confirmation that Cruz had been flagged to the FBI adds to mounting concern over whether the FBI missed potential warning signs that might have prevented the shooting, and whether people who have caught the attention of law enforcement in the past should remain on their radar.

In the last two years, a man who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, another accused of setting off bombs in the streets of New York City and a third charged in a deadly shooting at a Florida airport were on the radar of federal agents. But later it was determined they didn't warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny.
About 1,000 people gathered Thursday night at a vigil to remember the shooting victims. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

FBI director Christopher Wray said the agency is still reviewing its missteps on the January tip. He said he was "committed to getting to the bottom of what happened," as well as assessing the way the FBI responds to information from the public.

"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 the statement.

'I'm going to be a professional school shooter'

As early as last fall, a bail bondsman-video blogger in the U.S. noticed a comment on a YouTube video that said, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The blogger immediately reported it to YouTube and the FBI.

The next day, two agents came to his office to take a printout of the comment and ask him whether he knew anything about the person who posted it.

The tip referenced by the FBI on Friday appears to be separate from the previously reported YouTube comment, which the FBI acknowledged getting. But the agency failed to connect the comment to the accused gunman.

The username on the comment was "Nikolas Cruz" — the same name as the 19-year-old accused of opening fire at his former high school on Wednesday — but the FBI couldn't identify the poster, Robert Lasky, the special agent in charge of the FBI office in Miami, said Thursday.

Federal agents interviewed the bondsman who reported the comment and searched public records databases, actions in line with those done during an FBI assessment — the lowest level, least intrusive and most elementary stage of an FBI inquiry. But they came up short, and the FBI said it still hasn't conclusively linked the account to the alleged shooter.

FBI assessments are routinely opened after agents receive a tip, which could be sparked by something as simple as noticing odd activity in a neighbour's garage or a classmate's comments.

Tens of thousands of tips a year

Agents routinely face a challenge of sifting through which of the tens of thousands of tips received every year — and more than 10,000 assessments that are opened — could yield a viable threat.

Had agents been able to confirm Cruz was the same person as the YouTube poster, they would have found dozens of photos of rifles, ammunition and targets filled with bullet holes, which likely would have led to a face-to-face interview. The FBI did not notify police in Florida about the post before the mass shooting.

With anything that the FBI receives, they are constrained to act based on what they have in front of them.- Ron Hosko, retired FBI assistant director  

"They [agents] owe us some more detail on what they did," retired FBI assistant director Ron Hosko said. 

The questions come as the FBI is already under intense scrutiny and facing unprecedented attack from President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans, who have seized on what they say are signs of anti-Trump bias, particularly as it relates to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

But it's not clear the agency dropped the ball in the Florida shooting case, Hosko said.

"With anything that the FBI receives, they are constrained to act based on what they have in front of them," he said.

"You have a random internet posting that suggests the person wants to do something, not that they are planning on doing something."

Balancing national security with civil liberties

FBI guidelines that are meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase.

Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews during an assessment. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime. 

Dramatic video shows terrifying moments as shots ring out in Florida school

4 years ago
Duration 0:41
Students take shelter in classroom and auditorium; police escort them out after shooter captured 0:41

One student said Cruz had been abusive to his ex-girlfriend and his expulsion was over a fight with her new boyfriend.

With files from CBC News