Politics & Government

FBI director says two employees were disciplined for botched Parkland shooter tips

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that two FBI employees were disciplined for failing to pass along a tip that the Parkland school shooter “was going to slip into a school and start shooting the place up” 40 days before the country’s deadliest high school shooting.

Wray’s answer in response to questions from Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing was the first public acknowledgment that the FBI meted out discipline to employees that mishandled tips.

“I can tell you that there were two individuals principally involved with the call,” Wray said. “We had one individual that’s been reassigned as a result of that inspection report and one who is, I guess the best way to put it, is no longer with the FBI. I really can’t go into more detail than that. It should not be anybody’s impression that nothing has been done. We’ve made massive changes out there.”

Scott and families of the 17 victims have demanded answers from the FBI for months about personnel changes made after the Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland shooting. It took 20 months to get any kind of a public answer.

“To my knowledge, that’s the first public acknowledgment that there’s been any accountability for the mishandling of that tip,” said Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, a 14-year-old who was killed in the attack. “I’m pleased to hear Director Wray acknowledge that mistakes were made and that some corrective steps were taken but I’m troubled that we’re 20-plus months out from the tragedy and we’re just now getting the first acknowledgment that a mistake was made.”

Wray said he couldn’t provide more details about who was reassigned or is no longer with the FBI due to privacy concerns and pending litigation. At least two Parkland families who lost children in the shooting — Philip and April Schentrup and Fred Guttenberg — have filed lawsuits against the FBI over its mishandling of tips that were not shared with local law enforcement or the FBI’s Miami field office.

Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed, referred a Miami Herald reporter to his attorney when asked for comment about Wray’s remarks because of his active legal case. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Scott said in a statement after the hearing that he appreciated Wray’s remarks and plans to visit the FBI’s call center in person. But he said the agency should give more information to the families and the public about who was held accountable.

“The FBI’s failure to investigate and act on specific tips about the shooter is inexcusable, and I am glad, after more than a year of demanding answers, that we were finally able to get information on accountability and changes being made at the FBI,” Scott said in a statement. “The next step for Director Wray is to meet with the families of the Parkland victims and give them as much information as legally possible about what happened leading up to the attack and how those responsible have been held accountable. They deserve an explanation in person.”

Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was among the victims, said he was not given advance notice that Wray would acknowledge discipline during his Senate hearing on Tuesday.

“Rick [Scott] has been on the cutting edge with all the families, all of us, in supporting us in getting accountability,” Pollack said. “At least the FBI is holding somebody accountable.”

Wray said the FBI is increasing staffing, training, technology and oversight at their call centers in response to the Parkland shooting. He said the agency “put in an entire new leadership team with a wealth of experience and we made other personnel changes, some of them disciplinary in nature.”

Wray also said he made two visits to the call center after the Parkland shooting, one before the changes were implemented and one after. The call center handles approximately 3,000 tips per day, 60 of which are “potential threats to life,” according to Wray.

“Of the 60, probably about 80 percent of them have no federal nexus whatsoever,” Wray said to Scott. “And so we’re looking at ways of...how can we get the right, actionable information, the wheat but not the chaff, to our state and local partners as fast as possible.”

But Petty said the agency must do more to show that it has learned from its mistakes.

“The FBI needs to be more transparent about how they failed to identify the threat as an actionable threat,” Petty said. “Simply reassigning someone is not enough.”

Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.