Parkland, FL – Despite Broward school officials and the Broward Sheriff’s Office's claims that the Parkland school shooter wasn't part of their diversion program, a local news station is reporting that they lied.
Two sources with knowledge of school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s discipline records told WLRN that he was referred to the PROMISE Program for three days after he vandalized a bathroom at Westglades Middle School in 2013.
This information came as a shock to the community who had previously believed Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie’s declarations to the contrary.
“Let me reiterate this point,” Runcie told WLRN in an interview in his office in April. “Nikolas Cruz, the shooter that was involved in this horrific accident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, had no connection to the PROMISE program.”
“I’m not going to allow a shift from what our focus needs to be to a fictitious narrative that’s being made up about a successful program that we have in Broward County that has no connection to the shooter or the situation at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” he said.
Broward Sheriff's Office representative Jack Dale recently told a meeting of the new state commission investigating the shooting that Cruz didn't attend PROMISE, citing information from the school board.
“The school board reports that there was no PROMISE program participation,” Dale said.
But when WLRN questioned the truth of that statement again on Friday, Runcie’s office told WLRN that district administrators were “aggressively analyzing” Cruz’s school records.
Then on Sunday, Runcie’s spokeswoman, Tracy Clark, announced that the school district had confirmed that Cruz had been referred to the PROMISE program after the vandalism incident in 2013.
Clark said he had appeared for an intake interview for PROMISE at Pine Ridge Education Center in Ft. Lauderdale the day after the vandalism incident occurred, but that it did not appear he actually attended the program, WLRN reported.
"It does not appear that Cruz completed the recommended three-day assignment/placement, she said.
Clark refused to "speculate" as to why the future school shooter hadn’t actually done the program, WLRN reported.
The PROMISE program was created to divert students who commit crimes from entering the criminal justice system by sending them to an alternative school where they receive counseling and other support instead.
The program has resulted in a "drop in crime" after crimes now go unreported.
The diversionary program has faced much criticism in the wake of Cruz’s rampage on Feb. 14, but Runcie and the school board had remained committed and staunchly defended PROMISE.
School administrators have worked to combat what they call a “politically-motivated attack” based on “misinformation” and “fake news,” WLRN reported.
For months, Runcie maintained that Cruz had no link to the PROMISE program and called it “reprehensible” that people have tried to use the tragedy to target his pet program designed to eliminate the "school-to-prison pipeline," according to WLRN.
Critics have said that law enforcement and school officials appeared to be completely oblivious to criticism of their handling of Cruz before the shootings.
Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alana was murdered by Cruz, said that “the school district’s denial that Cruz had any connection to the PROMISE program raises serious questions,” The Sun Sentinel reported.
“Were school district officials unaware that Cruz was referred to the program when he was in middle school? This seems unlikely,” Petty said. “Are the program’s harshest critics in conservative media correct in claiming that the district is using the program to cover up high crime rates in Broward schools, or was the district trying to protect a program that they believe is working to keep kids out of jail?”
“It would seem the district is more concerned about protecting programs than students and teachers,” he said.
But this time, it wasn’t just conservatives who lashed out at Broward officials.
Cameron Kasky, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who was a leader of the national anti-gun march, tweeted about Runcie’s “awful” leadership and said “I’m very excited to meet his replacement,” WPLG reported.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has met with some of the harshest criticism for his department’s handling of Cruz, long before and on the day of the shooting.
The sheriff refused to take responsibility for his deputies’ actions in the aftermath of the shooting spree and has not addressed his culpability in his agency's failure to follow up on complaints prior to the massacre that could have prevented Cruz’s murderous rampage, according to WPLG.
Sheriff Israel has acknowledged none of it, instead referring to his own “amazing leadership” in an interview with CNN.
In March, he told WPLG that he had not heard that he was being criticized by the entire country or that people were disappointed in him.
"You haven't heard?" reporter Bob Norman asked the sheriff. "About the country being disappointed in you and the [Broward Sheriff's Office]?"
"No, not at all," Israel said. "My job is to protect and serve the Broward County residents."