On September 24, 2017, a Mississippi bail bondsman and frequent YouTube vlogger reported a comment posted one of his video pages to the FBI and YouTube. The account user Nikolas Cruz wrote, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
Less than three months later it appears that that same person, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, made good on his promise. Cruz allegedly opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida yesterday, killing at least 17 people.
In September, Ben Bennight, 36, emailed a screenshot of the comment and called the FBI’s Mississippi field office. Bennight told BuzzFeed News that the local FBI agents got back to him “immediately,” and met with him in person on September 25, 2017. But that’s all they allegedly did.
Here’s the screenshot:
They came to my office the next morning and asked me if I knew anything about the person. I didn’t. They took a copy of the screenshot and that was the last I heard from them.
Until yesterday afternoon, that is.
Roughly 30 minutes after Cruz was taken into custody, around 4:30 p.m. yeterday, the FBI contacted Bennight again. BuzzFeed News reported that Special Agent Ryan Furr from the Miami field office called Bennight and left him a voicemail, which Bennight provided to BuzzFeed News:
I think we spoke with you in the past about a complaint that you made about someone making a comment on your YouTube channel. I just wanted to follow up with you on that and ask you a question with something that’s come up, if you wouldn’t mind giving me a ring.
Afterwards Mississippi agents visited him and asked him the same questions they had asked him last fall. He said, “They asked me if I knew who he was. I didn’t. I don’t. Then they left.”
At a press conference this morning, the FBI stated that it had received and looked into a tip about the “professional school shooter” comment on Bennight’s YouTube channel. Special agent Robert Lasky told reporters:
No other information was included in the comment, which would indicate a time, location, or true identity of the person who made the comment. The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who made the comment. There was no connection found to South Florida.
When Bennight contacted YouTube last fall it removed Cruz’s comment from his video page. But, YouTube kept the Nikolas Cruz YouTube account active– until last night– hours after the shooting.
Apparently Nikolas Cruz’s comments didn’t violate YouTube’s policy enough to delete his account. As of today his YouTube account was deleted due to “multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy on violence.”
Bennight was not the first to alert authorities to Cruz’s behavior. Many classmates, neighbors, and relatives described Cruz as “a troubled ‘loner’ who often talked about guns and flaunted his obsession with weapons on his social media accounts.” Jim Gard, one of the school’s math teachers, told the Miami Herald that Cruz had been previously identified as a potential threat to other students.
More news reports are coming out from students who filed complaints about Cruz. The high school had also suspended Cruz last year for behavioral issues.
Could the FBI have prevented Cruz’s shooting spree? It’s unlikely, as the New York Times reports that “agents are still trying to sort out what happened, but without more information and limited ability under the circumstances to obtain a subpoena, their options were few.”
What’s more likely is blame will fall on the school district and school officials, who also were hampered by regulations and policies that limited how they could help a very troubled boy who allegedly mentally ill and orphaned at a young age.