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DOJ Settles with Families of Parkland Shooting Victims

By: Peter Suciu

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a tentative lawsuit settlement with the families of the victims of the February 2018 mass shooting that occurred at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

More than a dozen families had sued the DOJ for not acting on tips that had warned that Nikolas Cruz may have been planning an attack.

In the lawsuit, the families accused the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) of negligence and claimed the law enforcement bureau had received multiple tips about Cruz, including the fact that he may have amassed a cache of weapons, as well as his desire to shoot up the school.

Last month, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 accounts of attempted first-degree murder. A 12-person jury will next determine Cruz's sentencing. Jury selection for the sentencing phase will begin on Jan. 4 of 2022.

See Something, Say Something

In the post-Columbine and post-9/11 era, the general public has been reminded that if they "see something" suspicious, they should speak up and "say something" to alert authorities.

A 2019 report from the University of Colorado Boulder found school shootings are almost always planned ahead of time. It cited one study of school shootings and found that 81 percent of attackers told someone about their plan, while 93 percent exhibited strange behavior or other "red flags."

According to the report, thousands of planned school attacks have been averted thanks to tip lines and calls to authorities.

It seems, however, that this wasn't the case with Cruz and his plans to conduct such an attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In fact, as NPR.org reported, weeks before the shooting, a tipster had told the FBI that Cruz was "going to explode," and added that the young man planned to "slip into a school and start shooting up the place up."

Someone saw something, someone said something – but the FBI failed to act.

Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the mass shooting, filed a negligence lawsuit against the FBI in November 2018, and 39 other families later joined the suit.

"Although no resolution could ever restore what the Parkland families lost, this settlement marks an important step toward justice," Kristina Infante, the lead attorney for the families, said in a statement.

FBI Failed to Act

For its part, the FBI acknowledged after the massacre that it did not follow protocol after receiving tips.

In a previous statement, the FBI said: "The caller provided information about Cruz's gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting. Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami field office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken."

The settlement amount was not disclosed in the filing, but multiple news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN each reported that it amounts to about $127.5 million, which will be distributed among the families of the victims.

The victims of the shooting had also agreed to a $25 million settlement with the Broward County School District, resolving a lawsuit that had accused the district of negligence in failing to prevent the attack.

News of the Parkland settlement comes about a month after an $88 million DOJ settlement with the families of the 2015 Charleston, S.C., mass shooting.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

 
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