OPINION: How Missing Warning Signs Can Lead to a National Tragedy

Nisha Desai, Reporter

I remember where I was when I first heard about the Florida high school shooting.  I got up from my chair during all-state choir rehearsal break and checked my phone, only to see a bright notification flashing on the screen.  I contemplated opening the article for a few seconds before just sighing and tossing it back into my bag. ‘What’s the use?’ I asked myself. The story would be the same: precious lives lost.

Later, when I had some free time in my hotel room, I decided to open the article mostly because I knew people would soon be talking about it.  There was no point in delaying it any longer, just so I could save myself from the pain and sorrow of hearing the details about another horrifying shooting.

As I thumbed through the article, I let the shock course through me, as well as the inevitable grief that came along with it.  The worst part was seeing the photos of the students who had been killed, their radiant faces painfully oblivious to the future and the horrors it would bring.  I continued to follow up on the story in the subsequent days, my heart breaking as I saw the text messages students sent to their loved ones as they hid in storage rooms, classrooms, and bathrooms.   

“If I don’t make it I love you and I appreciated everything you did for me,” high school student Sarah Crescitelli texted her parents as she hid in a bathroom for two hours.

I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pure courage of students who sent messages like these, facing the reality and the heartbreaking possibility that they would never see their families again.

My compassion for these students and their families was soon overpowered by indignance. I found myself clenching my fists as articles described the series of red flags in Nikolas Cruz’s childhood that authorities had blatantly ignored: frequent police visits to his house due to physical violent fights with his brother.  Throwing a rock at another juvenile. Shoving his mother against a wall after she took away one of his privileges.

Just a few of these signs should have alerted the authorities that they were dealing with a child that was a danger to society.  Ordinary children have fights and occasionally give into their anger, but when it gets to the point of extreme physical violence along with frequent neighbor complaints that necessitate the involvement of the police, it’s obvious that the child is a huge threat to society.  And Nikolas Cruz didn’t stop being a danger to society. Instead, each successive action of his worsened.

In early 2016, a neighbor’s son reported a disturbing post by Cruz on Instagram that alluded to his plans for conducting a school shooting.    In late 2016, Cruz shared his self-harming with viewers on Snapchat. But this last sign is the most disturbing of them all: in September 2017, about five months before the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cruz posted this comment on a Youtube video: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”   

I still feel shivers when I read this comment.  It was as if Cruz was boasting about his huge plans, describing his ambitions for the future with all the conviction of someone claiming that they wanted to be President. He hadn’t even tried to hide his identity, as the username was Nikolas Cruz.

Why didn’t investigations begin immediately after this?  Authorities had five months, five whole months, to track down Nikolas Cruz and keep a close watch on him. The job of police officers is to protect innocent people, not just stand around and ignore the huge red flag waving right in front of them, especially when that flag is in the form of a threatening post online.  In this day and age, the Internet is used as a gateway to many elaborate plans of destruction and crime, so any suspicious activity needs to be addressed immediately.

My heart breaks for the victims: the innocent young high schoolers who were excited for the future, along with the brave, courageous teachers who selflessly shielded their students from the fire and left behind precious families.  Most of all, I can’t bear to imagine the grief of the victims’ loved ones, all of whom must face the fact that they lost a treasure that they will never get back.

As for the rest of us, we need to make sure that warning signs don’t slip right under our noses.  Violence shouldn’t be ignored. Threats should never be interpreted as jokes, even on social media.  If we see something that concerns us, we shouldn’t just shrug it off and tell ourselves that we’re being paranoid.  Speaking up, with the strength of numbers, can make a difference. Let’s use our voices to avoid tragedies like this in the future.  It’s the only way we can bring about lasting change.