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Justice Dept. to Pay $130 Million to High School Shooting Survivors

November 23, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Justice Dept. to Pay $130 Million to High School Shooting Survivors
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz enters the courtroom for a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale in 2019. (Amy Beth Bennett/AP)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that it reached a settlement agreement with family members and survivors of the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

Local media reports say the settlement amount is $130 million.

A federal judge agreed the FBI failed in its duty to follow up on tips that could have prevented the shooting.

The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty last month to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. A jury will decide in January whether he should face the death penalty or life in prison.

“Although no resolution could ever restore what the Parkland families lost, this settlement marks an important step toward justice,” Kristina M. Infante, an attorney for the Miami-based law firm of Podhurst Orseck, said in a statement.

She represented the 40 plaintiffs in the deadliest high school shooting in American history.

The survivors sued the FBI under the Federal Tort Claims Act, arguing that the FBI was negligent in not following up on tips indicating Cruz was violent. 

A key issue in the lawsuit was a tip on the FBI’s Public Access Line on Jan. 5, 2018, little more than a month before the Valentine’s Day shooting. The tipster claimed to know then 19-year-old Cruz and notified the FBI that he soon would try to kill others, most likely at his former high school in Parkland, Florida.

The tipster also said Cruz was staying with a family that gave him access to guns.

“I know he’s going to explode,” the woman said on the FBI’s tip line. She added that Cruz “was going to slip into a school and start shooting the place up.”

The FBI never investigated the tip and failed to inform the FBI’s field office in Miami, Florida, according to a ruling by U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas. The Justice Department had tried to get the lawsuit dismissed on behalf of the FBI.

An earlier tip, in September 2017, came from a bail bondsman in Mississippi who notified the FBI he found a message on YouTube that said, “I’m going to be a professional shooter.” The user name was “nikolas cruz.”

Two FBI agents interviewed the bondsman but could not link the message to a specific person and closed the investigation.

Cruz entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, carrying a rifle case and a backpack filled with extra ammunition. He fired indiscriminately at students and teachers in the hallway with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He then fired into classrooms on three floors, killing or injuring the rest of his victims.

When his gun apparently jammed, he dropped it on the ground after six minutes of sporadic gunfire and tried to blend in with the fleeing crowd. He had been recognized, which allowed police to arrest him about an hour later two miles from the scene.

The case is In re: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting FTCA Litigation, case number 0:18-cv-62758, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

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