Mass Shootings

Parkland Shooter Nikolas Cruz Needed Help. Bureaucratic Errors Deprived Him of It.

School officials failed to grant him special assistance to which he was entitled under district policy.


Taimy Alvarez/TNS/Newscom

The story of the Parkland mass shooting is one of catastrophic incompetence at every level: the sheriff, school resource officers, school security guards, the FBI, and the school itself. On Friday, we learned about two more mistakes critical junctures in the life of Nikolas Cruz, who would go on to murder 17 of his former classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.

More than a year before the shooting, education specialists told Cruz, who was struggling, that he should transfer to Cross Creek, an alternative school for students with special needs, according to a report obtained by The Sun-Sentinel. Cruz bucked this recommendation, choosing to stay at Stoneman Douglas. Under school district policy, he was still entitled to special-needs assistance while at Stoneman Douglas. But the school failed to provide with him the help.

That was mistake number one. Mistake number two came months later, when Cruz belatedly decided to enroll at Cross Creek after leaving Stoneman Douglas. According to The New York Times:

The district was required to respond to Mr. Cruz's request for special-needs services, known as exceptional student education, within 30 days, the report found. Instead, the district told Mr. Cruz that it would need to evaluate his eligibility for assistance—despite his 15-year record in the school system—and that the process could take six weeks.

The process never began: For a new special-needs evaluation to take place, Mr. Cruz first had to re-enroll in Stoneman Douglas. An administrator said it was too late in the school year to take him back.

Cruz bought an AR-15 three days after failing out of Stoneman Douglas. His bad choices are his own, and it's certainly possible that in an alternate timeline he simply would have shot up a different school. No one is response for his actions except him.

But the Parkland schools bureaucracy failed at absolutely every turn. We don't know what would have happened if school officials had done their jobs properly, but we do know that they were required to make an attempt to help Cruz. They did not. They left him to his own devices, adrift in the world, despite every warning that he was a disturbed and dangerous individual. This was a colossal screw-up—arguably one of the most consequential in the histories of public education and law enforcement.