February 19, 2018

Florida Massacre — See Something, Say Something?

The more information we learn about the perpetrator, the more distressing it becomes.

The more information we learn about the perpetrator of the horrific school massacre in Florida, the more distressing it becomes. The 19-year-old assailant had lost both adoptive parents, including his mother in November, and he was distressed over dating troubles. Florida’s social services investigated his home life amidst questions of mental illness, self-destructive behavior and his intent to purchase a firearm. That inquiry was closed last year after social workers concluded his “final level of risk is low,” because he was still in school at the time and had support from his mother.

The assessment was at odds with that of teachers and school officials, however. Going all the way back to his middle school years, school officials dealt with regular disciplinary issues over things like fighting, profane outbursts in class and violent images or threats written on his homework. Some teachers banned him from their classrooms. He was eventually expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, which he attacked Wednesday, because of the overall threat assessment. That included his habit of sometimes introducing himself as a “school shooter.”

The local cops had received calls about him dozens of times over several years, usually about domestic violence. The FBI received a tip on Jan. 5 about his threats to “be a professional school shooter,” but the bureau did not investigate. “It is now clear that the warning signs were there and tips to the FBI were missed,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions Friday. “We see the tragic consequences of those failures.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott even called for the resignation of FBI Director Chris Wray. That’s the wrong solution. The real responsibility for this is on the ground — local law-enforcement failed to make a case against this guy. Asking for the FBI director to resign accomplishes nothing.

But even with the failures of law enforcement, there were dozens of people who saw something, said something and did something to help this disturbed young man or to address his threat, right up until the last minute. A school official saw him approaching the school Wednesday and alerted other staffers, but it was too late to stop him.

So what hope is there?

See something, say something only works if the “something” is followed up with action and help. School officials were no doubt handicapped by legal hurdles or just plain old political correctness, and law enforcement simply failed to act. But sometimes, broken people just snap. Hindsight is always 20/20, and in each moment of involvement, teachers, administrators or cops may have thought they were doing all they were permitted to do. It’s only now, after 17 people are dead, that a full profile of his history is available.

In the end, crime prevention isn’t about arresting someone before they commit a crime; it’s about addressing the cultural cesspool we’re cultivating in this country and about providing individual help for people who need it.

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