Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Saturday outside the U.S. Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to rally for more stringent gun-control laws, days after the third most deadly school shooting in American history.
Amid chants of “End gun violence,” group leaders, local legislators and other public figures addressed what they felt was an urgent need for tougher laws governing the ownership of guns.
“I have called out Congress and told them … their job is to work for the people,” one young woman told the throng of demonstrators. “And they’re not working for the people. The country wants gun reform and they refuse to talk about it. They talk about mental health. They talk about bullying. They say it’s not the time. Now is the time! There is no other time!” she said to loud cheers and applause.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, who was expected to attend the rally, posted on Twitter that the deadly shooting might have sparked enough outrage to force legislative action on gun control:
The demonstrators gathered one day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of how the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation respond to warnings about potential mass killers.
That action followed an admission Friday by the FBI that it had ignored a tip about the gunman who killed 17 people and wounded 14 others at a school in Florida on Wednesday.
The agency acknowledged that it had not followed “established protocols” after receiving information about the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, on its national tip line. The FBI said someone with a close relationship to Cruz left information on January 5 about the teenager’s desire to kill people and other disturbing details.
Robert Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Miami, said the office did not receive the tip. “We truly regret any additional pain that this has caused,” he told reporters.
‘Relentlessly committed’ to improvement
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Friday that he was devoted to “getting to the bottom” of the matter and that FBI employees were “relentlessly committed to improving all that we do and how we do it.”
In a statement, Florida Governor Rick Scott called for Wray’s ouster, saying his agents’ “failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable. The FBI has admitted that they were contacted last month by a person who called to inform them of Cruz’s ‘desire to kill people,’ and ‘the potential of him conducting a school shooting.’ ”
“Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it,” the governor’s statement said. “An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain. The families will spend a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and an apology will never give them the answers they desperately need.”
Scott noted that “we constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act.” Therefore, he said, “the FBI director needs to resign.”
President Donald Trump made no comment to reporters on Friday as he left the White House for Florida.
Arriving in the state a few hours later, he and first lady Melania Trump drove to a hospital in Pompano Beach, meeting with some victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland.
Walking with Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, Trump praised the medical staff who treated the victims, saying, “The job they’ve done is incredible.” He also praised the speed with which first responders arrived at the school.
When asked by reporters whether the nation’s gun laws needed to be changed, Trump did not respond as he walked into a room.
Later, Trump traveled to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, meeting with several law enforcement officers. “Thank you all very much. Fantastic job. Thank you,” he told the officers.
Trump also met with Officer Mike Leonard, who said he was the one to locate and apprehend Cruz.
Speaking to Leonard, Trump said, “That was so modest. I would have told it much differently. I would have said, ‘Without me, they never would have found him,’ ” prompting laughter in the room.
Trump is to spend the long Presidents Day weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Parkland.
17 murder counts
Cruz, who was being held at the Broward County Jail without bond, has admitted carrying out the shootings with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, according to the county sheriff’s office. Cruz, who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons last year from the school, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Some members of Congress from Florida, including Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Ted Deutsch (who represents the district where the killings took place), called for congressional investigations into how the FBI fumbled the tip about Cruz.
VOA White House correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this story.