Florida Shooter Excelled at NRA-funded Rifle Training; FBI Admits Ignoring Early Tip

Nikolas Cruz was part of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, one of thousands of youth shooting clubs supported by pro-gun group

Photo used as profile picture on the Instagram account of Nikolas Cruz, who was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018
/AP

The troubled teen authorities say killed 17 people at a Florida high school excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation. It was part of a multi-million dollar effort by the pro-gun group to support youth shooting clubs.

 This booking photo obtained February 15, 2018 courtesy of the Broward County Sheriff's Office shows shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz.
HANDOUT/AFP

Nikolas Cruz was wearing a shirt with the logo of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program when he was arrested. Former cadets told The Associated Press that Cruz was on the varsity marksmanship team that competed against other area schools.

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The cadets used air rifles special-made for target shooting. The JROTC program at Cruz's school received $10,827 in non-cash assistance from the NRA's foundation while he was there. NRA declined to comment. The foundation gave nearly $2.2 million to schools in 2016.

This photo posted on the Instagram account of Nikolas Cruz shows weapons lying on a bed.
/AP

'Desire to kill'

The FBI received a specific report last month that the suspect in the Florida school shooting had a "desire to kill" and access to guns and could be plotting an attack, but agents failed to investigate the tip, the agency said Friday.

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 Maria Reyes, Stacy Buehler and Tiffany Goldberg light candles around a cross as they attend a candlelight memorial service for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.
JOE RAEDLE/AFP

A person who was close to Cruz called the FBI's tip line on Jan. 5 and provided information about Cruz's weapons and his erratic behavior, including his disturbing social media posts. The caller was concerned that Cruz could attack a school.

In a statement issued Friday, the agency acknowledged that the tip should have been shared with the FBI's Miami office and investigated, but it was not. The startling admission came as the agency was already facing criticism for its treatment of a tip about a YouTube comment posted by a "Nikolas Cruz" last year.

The FBI investigated the comment, which said "Im going to be a professional school shooter," but did not determine who made it.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency was still reviewing its missteps on the January tip. He said he was "committed to getting to the bottom of what happened," as well as assessing the way the FBI responds to information from the public.

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"We have spoken with victims and families and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy," Wray said in the statement.

Cruz has been charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, north of Miami.

Also Friday, mourners gathered for the first funeral for a shooting victim, packing the Star of David chapel to remember 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. From outside the chapel, other mourners strained to hear the voices chanting Jewish prayers and remembering the star soccer player as having "the strongest personality." She was also remembered as a creative writer with a memorable smile.

A day earlier, details of Wednesday's attack began to emerge, showing how the assailant moved through the school in just minutes before escaping with the same students he had targeted.

Cruz jumped out of an Uber car and walked toward building 12 of the school, carrying a black duffel bag and a black backpack. A man inside spotted Cruz and knew he was a former student, a troubled kid.

He radioed a co-worker and within a minute heard gunshots.

The 19-year-old was wearing a maroon shirt, black pants and a black hat. The man, whose name was blacked out from a sheriff's affidavit, told detectives Cruz was moving "purposefully."

Cruz slipped into the building, entered a stairwell and extracted a rifle from his bag, authorities said. He shot into four rooms on the first floor — going back to spray bullets into two of the rooms a second time — then went upstairs and shot a single victim on the second floor.

He ran to the third floor, where according to a timeline released by the Broward County Sheriff's Office, three minutes passed before he dropped the rifle and backpack, ran back down the stairs and quickly blended in with panicked, fleeing students.

Florida State Sen. Bill Galvano, who visited the third floor, said authorities told him it appeared that Cruz tried to fire point-blank out the third-floor windows at students as they were leaving the school, but the high-impact windows did not shatter. Police told Galvano that it was not that difficult to open the windows.

"Thank God he didn't," Galvano said.

From the time Cruz entered the building until the time he left, only six minutes passed. During that brief time, he shot more than two dozen people, including 17 fatally.

After the rampage, he walked to a Wal-Mart and bought a drink at a Subway restaurant, then went to a McDonald's.

About 40 minutes later, a deputy saw him walking down a suburban South Florida street and grabbed him. He didn't put up a fight.