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Poor record-keeping caused school district to lose track of Nikolas Cruz in 2013

South Florida Sun Sentinel - 7/10/2018

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ Broward County schools lost track of Nikolas Cruz's whereabouts in 2013, making it difficult to know whether he completed or even attended the district's PROMISE program.

After vandalizing a restroom faucet at Westglades Middle in Parkland, Cruz was assigned to a three-day stint with the program, which provides alternatives to arrests for some misdemeanors. But what actually happened on Nov. 26 and Dec. 2 and 3 in 2013 remains a mystery.

"The records are inconsistent and inconclusive as to where Cruz was during his assignment to PROMISE on the three days in 2013," says a report prepared by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for the commission investigating the Feb. 14 massacre at Stoneman Douglas High, where Cruz killed 17 people.

Cruz was supposed to start attending PROMISE at Pine Ridge Alternative Center in Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 26. That day, he was marked present both at Pine Ridge and his home school of Westglades.

"Cruz obviously could not have been in two places at once, but the district is unable to determine where he was on Nov. 26, 2013," the report says. "Staff members have no recollection whether Cruz was at Westglades or Pine Ridge."

Students must take a school bus to attend PROMISE, but district transportation records do not show Cruz being transported to Pine Ridge on Nov. 26. That day, Pine Ridge records suggest Cruz started the program, although "the person who prepared the documents has no independent recollection of Cruz," the report says.

On what was supposed to be Cruz's second day in PROMISE, he was marked absent from the program and from Westglades. The third day, he was marked present at Westglades but absent from PROMISE.

"The teacher whose class Cruz was assigned at Pine Ridge is deceased and we are unable to determine whether he has any recollection of Cruz actually being in his classroom," the report says.

District officials say the PROMISE attendance records and the normal school attendance records were kept on two different computer systems in 2013 that weren't integrated so Westglades staff might not know whether Cruz was at Pine Ridge or vice versa. In 2014 they began using the same attendance software. Had that been done in 2013, "the conflict and absences likely would have been known and more obvious," the report says.

The report also says it's impossible to know if Cruz participated in PROMISE because "the forms that should have been completed showing Cruz's PROMISE completion are absent from his file."

There's nothing to indicate Cruz was referred to the juvenile justice system for the vandalism offense, which is the normal procedure for students assigned to PROMISE but who don't participate or complete it.

There's also nothing to indicate that Cruz's PROMISE involvement, or lack thereof, mattered, the report says.

Had the state attorney prosecuted the misdemeanor vandalism charge and Cruz was found guilty, it would have had "no legal relevance on any subsequent contact Cruz had with law enforcement, and it would never have had any effect on Cruz's legal right to buy, own or possess a firearm," the report says.

The PROMISE program _ which stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support & Education _ has been the target of critics who say it allows children to commit crimes without dealing with police or accumulating a record that could be used to prevent them from owning a gun. A South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation found that it's part of a culture of leniency that allows unruly students to receive endless second chances.

The school district has struggled to answer questions about Cruz's involvement in the PROMISE program.

Initially, Superintendent Robert Runcie said he had no involvement at all and was never eligible for the program, later adding a caveat that he was never eligible while attending Stoneman Douglas.

The school district backtracked two months ago, saying he appeared to have attended the first day but didn't complete it, and they couldn't explain why.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission plans to discuss these and other issues Tuesday at a meeting at BB&T Center in Sunrise.


(c)2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): NIKOLAS CRUZ



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