Teachers feared Parkland shooter a year and a half before the massacre

A year and a half before the Stoneman Douglas massacre, some of the shooter’s teachers were surveyed about his behavior. They wrote that he made threats. He was fascinated with guns. They were afraid of him.

Nikolas Cruz told an administrator that shooting guns helped him relieve stress. And when the school district judged whether he might harm other students, he met all of the criteria for aggression and depression.

Those observations, however, were never relayed to police or to mental health workers evaluating whether to hospitalize him for psychiatric care, the South Florida Sun Sentinel has found.

“Those teacher comments are extremely relevant. There is stuff in them somebody doing an assessment should have been aware of,” said Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the state-appointed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which did an exhaustive review of the Broward school district’s handling of Nikolas Cruz.

The school district’s failure to share the teachers’ observations is another unfortunate turn in the litany of missed opportunities to intervene and disrupt Nikolas Cruz’s pernicious plan. Had outside police or mental health workers read the teachers’ forms in September 2016, they may have hospitalized Cruz under the state’s so-called “Baker Act.” But they didn’t.

Whether hospitalization would have mattered is debatable. Florida’s mental health system is a revolving door of quick stays without good follow-up care. But the school’s assessment of Cruz points to another persistent and glaring problem: the failure to share information internally and across agencies. The school district cites student privacy laws for carefully guarding information, but the law includes an exception to protect the health or safety of the student or others.

Cruz killed 17 people and injured 17 others with an assault-style rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.

The clumsy threat assessment “makes me angry because I paid a high price for the mistakes made by the Broward County School District and so did 33 other families and the community at large,” said commission member Ryan Petty, who lost his youngest child, 14-year-old Alaina, in the tragedy.