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How the system built to stop Stoneman Douglas school shooter repeatedly broke down

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The Broward County Sheriff’s Office received a call in November with an ominous warning: Nikolas Cruz, a troubled 19-year-old, was collecting guns and knives and “could be a school shooter in the making.”

It was one of at least four times local or federal authorities were contacted about such a threat linked to Cruz, including a tip the FBI received in January warning that he would “get into a school and just shoot the place up,” according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Post on Friday. Another tip to the sheriff’s office the previous year warned that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school.”

In the era of “see something, say something,” members of the public did just that. But what happened after the November call fit a disturbing pattern in the lead-up to the Parkland, Fla., massacre: No report was filed, and there is no evidence the threat was ever investigated.

Less than three months later, police say, Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and gunned down 17 students and faculty members. As the rampage has supercharged the country’s politically fraught debate over gun control and school safety, it also has cast a spotlight on the systems set up to protect Americans nationwide.

The FBI’s acting deputy director David Bowdich said this week that the agency made mistakes in its handling of a warning about Cruz. The FBI on Friday briefed congressional staff on the tip and the agency’s failure to properly follow up.

Investigations into mass shootings often reveal warning signs that seem blindingly clear with the benefit of hindsight. But the Parkland shooting has stood out for the sheer scale of how many alarms were raised before the Feb. 14 rampage.

Rather than flying under the radar, Cruz was a known troublemaker who repeatedly drew scrutiny from local, state and federal authorities as well as school officials, social services investigators and mental-health counselors. Yet time and time again, the alarms would go unheeded.

This account is based on interviews, police records, state documents, public statements and 911 recordings dealing with the shooting. Cruz is behind bars, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, and likely to face a possible death sentence.

Police say they never had cause to arrest Cruz, leaving him with a clean criminal record and able to pass background checks. Only five states have “red flag laws” allowing them to seize guns before people can commit acts of violence, and Florida is not among them.

“We take guns from people when we run into them engaged in aberrant, troubling behavior,” said Daniel J. Oates, the Miami Beach police chief who had the same role in Aurora, Colo., when a gunman killed 12 at a movie theater there in 2012. But under Florida law, he said, “there’s a strong presumption that the person is entitled to the gun back.”

Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender representing Cruz, said he should have been involuntarily hospitalized under the state’s Baker Act.

“There is no explaining how every single agency in every regard missed every signal,” said Finkelstein. “It’s very overwhelming in its sadness and scariness. Because there are people in this county, and I imagine counties all over America, who want to know: Are my children safe?”

People who knew Cruz growing up said he would attack animals and pick fights, while educators repeatedly referred him to counseling. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigated his home life in 2016 after receiving allegations he was being mistreated, but officials said his risk level was low because he lived with his mother, attended school and received counseling. The probe was closed.

In November, his mother died and he was removed from Stoneman Douglas earlier that year for disciplinary reasons. The same month he left Douglas, Cruz purchased the AR-15 he would use in the rampage, police said.

By the time of the shooting, Cruz had legally purchased at least 10 rifles and shotguns, including an AK-47 variant, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

Law enforcement officials have drawn intense criticism for lapses involving Cruz. The FBI said it failed to investigate the January warning about concerns that he wanted to kill people, owned guns and could carry out a school shooting.

This person told the FBI that she worried Cruz was “going to explode,” a federal law enforcement official said Friday. Details of her call were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed a transcript of the call. A federal law enforcement official confirmed the information to The Washington Post.

The caller, who seemed to have detailed knowledge of Cruz’s behavior, said Cruz had commented on social media about killing himself — something passed to local police, she said — and that his more recent posts suggested violence against others.

“Something is going to happen,” the caller said.

The FBI representative inquired about the caller’s assertion that Cruz was “into ISIS” and requested contact information for the people with whom Cruz is said to be staying.

That tip came months after the FBI was alerted to a YouTube comment in which someone with the screen name “nikolas cruz” wrote “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” The agency said it was unable to determine who posted the message at the time, but now believes it was Cruz.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday it received 23 calls relating to Cruz or his family dating back to 2008, when he was 9 years old.

In one 911 call to that sheriff’s office, a woman said that her son and another young man — Cruz, according to his lawyer who confirmed this call centered on his client — got into a fight, and she was “afraid he’s coming back and he has a lot of weapons.” She also said that Cruz had aimed a gun at people’s heads before. In another 911 call, Cruz called authorities and, sounding distressed, said he was attacked.

In Broward County, the sheriff’s office said it has launched internal investigations into how two calls about Cruz were handled. The February 2016 call alleged Cruz had stated on Instagram that he wanted to shoot up a school; a deputy spoke to the caller and determined that Cruz had knives and a BB gun, the sheriff’s office said.

Information about that call was sent to Scot Peterson, the Douglas school resource officer who failed to enter the building during the shooting, but it was unclear what he did with the tip. Peterson has retired and the deputy has been placed on restricted administrative duty as part of the investigation.

In November, a caller alerted the Broward County Sheriff’s Office that Cruz was collecting guns and knives, wanted to join the Army, may commit suicide and could be a school shooter. Authorities have not identified the caller, except to say they called from Massachusetts.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said this week that no report was filed on that call. After the Stoneman Douglas shooting, a deputy said he referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, but a spokeswoman for that office said they were never told of that threat. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it launched an internal investigation into the call but declined to provide further details about what happened after, citing the ongoing internal affairs investigation.

Robert Bonczek, 17, a Stoneman Douglas senior who plans to join the Marine Corps, said students are angry with law enforcement officials and that civilians and authorities alike don’t take threats as seriously as they should.

“We’re desensitized to any threat,” he said. “So when they see something on the Internet they think, ‘eh, whatever.’ No one ever thinks it will happen to you.”

Bonczek said most students are focusing not on blame, but with channeling their anger to press for changes to laws regulating guns.

“The FBI didn’t do their job, but it’s hard to do anything about that,” he said. “But with Congress, we can specifically make calls for change.”

 

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American journalist killed by Russian forces in Ukraine, police say

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 An American journalist was killed and another journalist was wounded by Russian forces in the town of Irpin outside the capital of Kyiv on Sunday, Ukrainian police said. 

Brent Renaud, a 50-year-old filmmaker, was killed when Russian troops opened fire, according to Andriy Nebytov, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force. Nebytov posted a graphic photo purportedly of Renaud’s body on Facebook, as well as pictures of his American passport and media credentials issued by The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the Times said Renaud was “a talented filmmaker who had contributed to The New York Times over the years,” most recently in 2015, but he “was not on assignment for any desk at The Times in Ukraine.”

Nebytov wrote that Renaud “paid [with] his life for trying to highlight the aggressor’s ingenuity, cruelty and ruthlessness,” according to an automated translation of his Facebook post.

Renaud and his brother Craig Renaud have reported from a number of global hotspots over the past two decades, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt, according to a biography on their website. The pair won a Peabody Award in 2015 for an eight-part documentary for Vice News about a school in Chicago for students with severe emotional issues.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called reports of Renaud’s death “shocking and horrifying,” telling “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the U.S. and its allies would impose “appropriate consequences” against Russia for the killing.

“I will just say that this is part and parcel of what has been a brazen aggression on the part of the Russians where they have targeted civilians, they have targeted hospitals, they have targeted places of worship and they have targeted journalists,” Sullivan said.

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Singer Traci Braxton of ‘Braxton Family Values’ dies at 50

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Singer Traci Braxton, who was featured with her family in the reality television series “Braxton Family Values,” died at age 50 on Saturday.

Her sister, Toni, and family said that Braxton died “this morning as the snow was falling.” According to reports, Traci Braxton had been fighting esophageal cancer.

“Needless to say, she was a bright light, a wonderful daughter, an amazing sister, a loving mother, wife, grandmother and a respected performer,” the family said. “We will miss her dearly.”

“Braxton Family Values” aired for seven seasons starting in 2011 on WeTV. It focused on the lives of sisters Toni, Traci, Tamar, Trina and Towanda and their extended families.

Traci was an actress and singer who released albums in 2014 and 2018, with the singles “Last Call” and “Broken Things” her best-known songs.

She spent much of her time doing social work for children with disabilities, according to her website.

She was married to Kevin Surratt, with whom she appeared on the TV series “Marriage Boot Camp.”

Their son, Kevin Surratt Jr., said on Instagram Saturday that his mother fought to the end.

“I love my mother forever and this hurts so much but I’m at peace knowing she’s not in pain anymore,” he said.

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UNITED MASTERS TEAMS UP WITH THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS

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BPRW) UNITEDMASTERS TEAMS UP WITH THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS TO GIVE INDEPENDENT ARTISTS THE OPPORTUNITY TO WIN $15K AND HAVE THEIR MUSIC INCLUDED IN THE FILM’S PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN

ORIGINAL SONG “BACK TO LIFE” FROM EMERGING HIP-HOP ARTIST QUANTRELLE WINS GRAND PRIZE; 5 RUNNERS UP TO RECEIVE $1,000

(Prestige Celebrity Magazine) NEW YORK, NY — In celebration of the highly anticipated film The Matrix Resurrections, UnitedMasters – the “record label in your pocket” for independent artists – has joined forces with Warner Bros. Pictures to offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for artists to win $15,000 and have their original music included in the film’s promotional campaign. 

Today, UnitedMasters has revealed rising hip-hop artist and Charlotte, NC native Quantrelle as the winner of the contest. Quantrelle’s song, “Back to Life,” written specially for the open call, will receive the $15,000 cash prize and be featured in The Matrix Resurrections promotional campaign. Quantrelle’s track was selected as the lead song out of thousands of entries.

Quantrelle shared, “When I first started working on this song, the intention was to create a sound that embodied the energy of the movie. Once that feeling was solidified, I got inspired to write lyrics that really speak to the film and are words any Matrix fan would understand. I was really inspired by the scene of Neo dodging bullets, which I watched during the process, and that illustrious moment felt so in sync with what I was going for, that’s when I knew we had something special.”  

Five runners-up were also selected to receive $1,000 each to put towards their music careers. Each track was judged by UnitedMasters’ professional sync team and based on encompassing The Matrix themes, overall creativity, production quality, lyrical content, dynamics, mood, and emotion. The Matrix Resurrections is set to release in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max on December 22nd.

UnitedMasters’ engagement with The Matrix Resurrections aligns with their mission of ensuring the next generation of creators take their futures into their own hands. UnitedMasters is dedicated to helping artists level the playing field by offering opportunities and exclusive resources often reserved for major label acts. The platform gives independent artists access to premium music distribution services, a suite of tools to help directly connect with their fans, and opportunities to connect with brands that want access to premium music produced and owned by independent artists. UnitedMasters artists maintain ownership over their master recording rights while being introduced to millions of new fans worldwide through direct brand partnerships.

About UnitedMasters

Launched in 2017 by Translation founder and music industry veteran Steve Stoute, UnitedMasters is a music technology company that gives creators access to premium music distribution services, a suite of tools to help them directly connect with fans, and opportunities for unique partnerships with some of the world’s biggest brands all while allowing them to maintain full ownership over their master recording rights.

About The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections reunites Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as cinematic icons Neo and Trinity. Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. And if Thomas…Neo…has learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of—or into—the Matrix. Of course, Neo already knows what he has to do. But what he doesn’t yet know is the Matrix is stronger, more secure and more dangerous than ever before. Déjà vu.

The film also stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Angel Has Fallen,” TV’s “Gotham”).

Lana Wachowski directed from a screenplay by Wachowski & David Mitchell & Aleksander Hemon, based on characters created by The Wachowskis. The film was produced by James McTeigue, Lana Wachowski and Grant Hill. The executive producers were Garrett Grant, Terry Needham, Michael Salven, Karin Wachowski, Jesse Ehrman and Bruce Berman.

Wachowski’s creative team behind the scenes included directors of photography Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, production designers Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole, editor Joseph Jett Sally, costume designer Lindsay Pugh, visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, and composers Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents, In Association with Village Roadshow Pictures, In Association with Venus Castina Productions, The Matrix Resurrections. The film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. It will be in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan on December 22, 2021; it will be available on HBO Max in 4K UHD, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (English only) on supported devices for 31 days from theatrical release.

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