Saturday March 23rd, 2019 2:52PM

Witness: Florida massacre suspect made threats about school

By The Associated Press
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida high school massacre suspect Nikolas Cruz allegedly told a woman months before the shooting that he might attack the school and that he might even kill her — but she never called police.

Giovanna Cantone's statement was one of many made public Wednesday as part of the prosecution of 19-year-old Cruz in the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people. Also released were more accounts of students who witnessed the attacks and statements from people who knew Cruz, including his brother Zachary.

Cantone told a detective that she was at the Dollar Tree store where her daughter and Cruz worked in the summer of 2017. Cantone said she told Cruz while he was ringing up her purchases that he had other options after getting expelled from Stoneman Douglas and to put it all behind him.

"He said, ah, I can go shoot them and you know I can shoot you too," Cantone said. "I says this guy is like, you know, talking kind of crazy. I'm not used to those things.'"

But Cantone said she never reported the conversation to authorities, although she did call an FBI hotline after the killings.

"I let it go. I'm sorry I did that, you know, but then I understand that a lot of people came forward," she said. Others told the FBI and Broward Sheriff's Office before the massacre that Cruz might commit a school shooting, but that was never investigated.

Other witnesses told investigators in statements released Wednesday they saw Cruz practicing shooting in his backyard, that he had frequently harmed animals and was obsessed with weapons and killing.

Zachary Cruz, 18, said his brother changed after their mother, Lynda, died in November. He was asked why he thought Nikolas Cruz would attack the school.

"I think just because he lost hope in life," Zachary Cruz replied. "He'd be telling me, like, dude, I don't even want to live any more."

Meanwhile, the chairman of a state commission investigating the massacre said law enforcement's response in the crucial first minutes after the shooting began was hampered by quirks in the local 911 system that caused many calls from inside the school to be transferred.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at Wednesday's meeting to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission that the dual dispatch system used by the city of Parkland delayed getting timely information to responding police officers and sheriff's deputies.

Parkland, where the school is located, gets police service from the Broward Sheriff's Office, and fire and paramedic service from the neighboring city of Coral Springs, which also has a police department. Cellular 911 calls from Parkland go to Coral Springs. Those callers needing police are transferred to Broward County's 911 center. Almost all calls from Stoneman Douglas were from cellphones, which had to be transferred. That added about 30 seconds before each reached a dispatcher — if the call wasn't disconnected.

Coral Springs is one of two Broward cities that aren't part of the countywide 911 system. Gualtieri believes that needs to end.

"The problem is that you have not one truly consolidated 911 center in Broward County," Gualtieri said. "People who call 911 and need help immediately, the person who took the call cannot get them the help they need." He said that is not unique to Broward — it is a problem nationwide, particularly with cell calls to 911.

After testifying before the commission, Shawn Backer, deputy chief of the Coral Springs Police Department, told reporters it is too early to say whether the bifurcated system created any significant delays in the response. He said Broward sheriff's deputies and Coral Springs officers who responded to the school were quickly able to establish communications.

"I wouldn't say there was a failure of communication. The boots on the ground, the officers that were there, were in contact with deputies from the sheriff's office instantaneously and were able to share information in person," he said.

Commissioner Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the shooting, said the systems need to be merged because any delay is unacceptable.

"I want every call when somebody calls 911 to be transferred to the right department. If someone needs law enforcement, I want law enforcement to go there," he said.

The commission, which includes law enforcement, educators, a legislator, parents of slain students and others, is in the middle of a three-day monthly meeting as it examines the massacre's causes. It will issue a report by the end of the year and make recommendations to prevent future school shootings.

Nikolas Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.


Anderson reported from Fort Lauderdale.

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