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How schools stopped recent shootings before they happened

Schools across the country thwarted shootings in the days before and after Parkland, Florida's mass shooting.

by Josh Marcus
Feb 16 2018, 8:18pm

After the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, the U.S. is once again faced with a question that’s become all too common: How can these shootings be stopped before they happen?

When a former student showed up at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 on Wednesday and started firing, he killed 17 people and injured at least 14 others. In the aftermath, some called for mental health reform while others demanded gun control legislation. The president urged Americans to stay vigilant and report suspects to authorities.

But thwarted school shootings across the country in the days before and after Wednesday’s tragedy could provide some answers.

Online threats

Arkansas police arrested a student at Fayetteville High School on Friday morning after they made a threat in a Snapchat post to “shoot up the high school like they did in Florida.” The student, however, later claimed the post was a joke.

The night before, South Carolina police arrested a ninth grader at Broome High School after a fellow student flagged the suspect’s Snapchat post, where he held what looked like an assault rifle and promised “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow.” A police search later revealed the weapon was a pellet gun.

Two days before the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, a student from Michigan City, Indiana, threatened to bring a gun to school and shared a picture of a weapon after getting into an argument on Facebook Messenger. But police identified and arrested a suspect in a matter of hours after the exchange was shared across social media.

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who opened fire in Parkland, Florida, left his own trail of violent threats across the internet. Over the last five months, the FBI received two tips about Cruz’s potential violent behavior but couldn’t verify the suspect’s identity after the first and failed to follow up on the second. Local authorities were also alerted in 2016 to an Instagram post indicating he was going to shoot up the school, an anonymous law enforcement source told CBS.

Acting out at school

At the end of January, police in Pennsylvania found a cache of weapons in a 14-year-old’s room that ranged from a semi-automatic rifle to machetes and a crossbow after a student told his parents he overhead the suspect threaten to carry out a school shooting.

Cruz’s classmates also said he threatened to bring guns on campus multiple times and said he once had bullets in his backpack. One acquaintance told CNN this is how he would introduce himself: “Hi, I’m Nick. I’m a school shooter.”

Before enrolling at Stoneman Douglas High School, educational records show Cruz attended a special school for kids with emotional and behavioral challenges, and was later expelled from high school for still-undisclosed disciplinary reasons.

Signs of trouble at home

The day before Parkland, a woman in Washington stopped a potential shooting after alerting police that she found plans for a mass shooting in her grandson’s diary and located a rifle in his guitar case. Officers arrested the 18-year-old at school later that day.

Cruz’s home life was also especially fraught. Both of his adoptive parents died, and records obtained by CNN show officers visited Cruz’s home at least 39 times since 2010 for “child/elderly abuse” and “domestic disturbance.” His neighbors also described frequent instances of violent behavior like throwing eggs at cars, harming animals, and pointing a BB gun at a nearby house, for which they sometimes called the police.

Cover image: Teens, who walked out from the direction of the high school, are escorted by police following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla. on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)