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Broward Sheriff’s Office investigates allegations that multiple deputies stayed outside during the Parkland massacre

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 2/24/2018 Mark Berman
a group of stuffed animals on display in a store: Melissa Goldsmith weeps outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 18. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post) © Provided by WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post Melissa Goldsmith weeps outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 18. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating allegations that multiple deputies failed to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after the shooting rampage there, adding to the internal probes examining the department’s response to the attack and its prior interactions with the suspect.

Authorities have faced criticism about the unheeded warning signs that preceded the Feb. 14 massacre. These warnings about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with the killings, included tips saying he could be capable of carrying out a school shooting. The FBI received such a tip in January but never investigated it. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it received two similar warnings, but there is no evidence that either prompted any investigation.

Officials have also faced difficult questions about what happened after the shooting began inside Stoneman Douglas. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel acknowledged Thursday that an armed deputy, serving as the school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas, got to the scene of the shooting but failed to go inside, violating accepted police protocol. That deputy, Scot Peterson, a three-decade veteran of the sheriff’s office, resigned after being suspended.

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The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has said it is investigating how the agency responded to the gunfire that killed 17 students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas. A sheriff’s office spokeswoman in a statement Saturday said “detectives are investigating the claims from [the] Coral Springs Police Department that some deputies did not go into the school when they should have.”

Israel, the sheriff, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday that if investigators find “that our deputies made mistakes and didn’t go in, I’ll handle it like I always have.”

According to a CNN report, police officers from nearby Coral Springs who arrived at Stoneman Douglas said that in addition to Peterson, they found at least three other sheriff’s deputies still outside the building.

Coral Springs police released a statement saying it was “aware of media reports” but was not going to make statements “regarding these allegations as it is still an open and active investigation being handled by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.”

“Our police department has continued to work alongside the Broward Sheriff’s Office to assist in any investigation pertaining to this incident,” the statement said. “The Coral Springs Police Department has a tremendous working relationship with the men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and while we are being transparent through this investigation, everyone should respect the process.”

Tony Pustizzi, the Coral Springs police chief, did not respond to a message seeking comment on Saturday. He said earlier this week that his department, which is headquartered just miles down the road from Stoneman Douglas and polices a city where many of the school’s students live, will also review its response to the shooting.

Students are released from a lockdown outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Florida high school shooting Slideshow by photo services

Officials have said they are reviewing how they handled earlier warnings about Cruz, including the fumbled FBI tip. In January, a woman described by the bureau as close to Cruz contacted the FBI tip line and warned that he could “get into a school and just shoot the place up,” according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Post.

The woman told the FBI that she was worried Cruz was “going to explode,” the transcript showed. “Something is going to happen,” the caller said. She is also quoted as saying she had passed the information along to local police.

The FBI has acknowledged that it made mistakes in handling the warning and said the bureau was investigating both what happened and how it handles tips from the public.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said this week that among the 23 calls it received relating to Cruz or his family over the last decade were two with warnings that the teenager could potentially open fire at a school. Both calls have since prompted internal affairs probes, the sheriff’s office said.

In February 2016, a caller warned that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school.” A deputy spoke to the caller, learned that Cruz had knives and a BB gun, and relayed information from the call to Peterson, the deputy serving as the Stoneman Douglas school resource officer. It remains unclear what Peterson, who has not responded to attempts to reach him, did with the information.

The following year, the sheriff’s office also said it got a call warning that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and could be “a school shooter in the making.” That call, made in November 2017, came less than three months before the Stoneman Douglas massacre. It noted that Cruz, whose mother had died that month, had moved from Parkland, Fla., to a home in Palm Beach County.

According to the Broward sheriff’s office, no report was filed on the call, and a deputy interviewed after the Stoneman Douglas shooting said he referred it to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. A spokeswoman for that office told The Washington Post on Friday that they “have NO RECORD of getting this threat.”

The Broward sheriff’s office said it was unable to provide more information about what may have happened after that call because of the ongoing internal probe.

Investigations after mass shootings often reveal multiple things that could have been handled better both during the bloodshed and in the months or years leading up to them. Daniel J. Oates, who was the police chief in Aurora, Colo., during the 2012 mass shooting there, said law enforcement officials would scrutinize any missteps, but he cautioned against drawing conclusions until these investigations have been conducted.

“Everyone just needs to remember, that entire community, including those first responders, are all victims, and they’re going to live with this for the rest of their lives, and its very painful,” Oates, who is now the police chief in Miami Beach, said in an interview. “Everyone’s going to ask themselves, ‘Could I have done something differently?’ ”

Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

Further reading:

‘I would rather not be alone.’ Behind their anger, Florida students are still teens struggling with trauma.

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