Florida trucker arrested, charged with plotting church shooting: prosecutors

Police Lights

(Reuters) – Federal authorities said they have arrested a Florida truck driver who “was thinking about shooting up a church” in Memphis this week, making him at least the fourth person this month charged with plotting a mass shooting.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Thomas McVicker, 38, in Indianapolis on Monday after a friend in Alabama alerted agents to text messages he sent in which he described his plans for a mass shooting and suicide, according to court papers.

McVicker, who is from Punta Gorda but lives in his truck, is under treatment and is on medication for schizophrenia, according to his mother, FBI Special Agent Ketrick Kelley said in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

It was not immediately clear if McVicker had an attorney.

The alleged mass shooting, which Kelley said McVicker appeared to be planning to carry out on Thursday, comes after law enforcement authorities in Ohio, Florida and Connecticut said they arrested three men who planned mass shootings.

Since July 28, shooting sprees in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killed 34 people.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

Head bowed, Florida shooting suspect returns to court for hearing

Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool

By Katanga Johnson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – A former student accused of last week’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school returned to court for a hearing on Monday in a case that has galvanized advocates of stricter gun control, including many of the rampage survivors.

Nikolas Cruz, his head bowed, hands shackled at his waist and wearing a red, jail-issued jumpsuit, showed no emotion during the procedural session in Fort Lauderdale.

The hearing ended with Broward Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruling that a defense motion filed last week remain sealed from public view. The content of the motion, sealed by another judge, was not described in the hearing.

A man mourns next to the crosses and Stars of David placed in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A man mourns next to the crosses and Stars of David placed in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In a second hearing, Broward Circuit Court Judge Charles Greene ordered the release of parts of a mental health assessment of Cruz by the Florida Department of Children and Families in November 2016. The report has already been leaked to South Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper.

Cruz, who did not attend the second hearing, is facing 17 counts of premeditated murder after the attack on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, near Fort Lauderdale. It is the deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. high school.

The suspect, whose mother died in November, was investigated by authorities after videos surfaced on the social media platform Snapchat showing him cutting himself, the assessment by the Department of Children and Families said.

“Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr. Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for,” the released report said.

In a statement, department secretary Mike Carroll said the records showed Cruz was getting mental health services before, during and after the assessment. Cruz was living with his mother and attending school when it concluded, he said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has acknowledged it failed to act on a tip called in last month warning that Cruz possessed a gun and the desire to kill.

Greene agreed to the request by Cruz’s team of public defenders to release the assessment. But he stopped short of allowing the release of details of Cruz’s mental health history and child abuse records.

Student survivors gathered with teachers and gun safety advocates to plan a visit to the state capital of Tallahassee on Wednesday. They will demand state lawmakers enact a ban on the sale of assault weapons in Florida.

The White House said on Monday that President Donald Trump supports efforts to improve federal background checks for gun purchases. Trump angered some students by suggesting in a tweet on Saturday that the FBI had missed signs that the shooter was troubled because it was distracted by its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty and Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler)

FBI admits mishandling tip about accused Florida gunman

Mourners leave the funeral for Alyssa Aldaheff, 14, one of the victims of the school shooting, in North Fort Lauderdale, Florida, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Bernie Woodall and Zachary Fagenson

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday said it mishandled a January tip that the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people in Florida had guns and the potential to carry out a school shooting.

A person close to accused gunman Nikolas Cruz called an FBI tip line on Jan. 5 to report concerns about him, the FBI said in a statement.

(For a graphic on Florida school shooting click http://tmsnrt.rs/2nX8ECo)

“The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” it said.

The tip appeared unrelated to a previously reported YouTube comment in which a person named Nikolas Cruz said, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI has acknowledged getting that tip as well but failing to connect it to Cruz, who is accused of carrying out the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday with an AR-15-style assault rifle.

“Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,” the FBI said in its statement. “The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami field office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken. We have determined that these protocols were not followed.”

The second-deadliest shooting at a public school in U.S. history also raised concerns about potential failures in school security and stirred the ongoing U.S. debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“We are still investigating the facts,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the statement. “We have spoken with victims and families, and deeply regret the additional pain this causes all those affected by this horrific tragedy.”

Leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump have linked mental illness to Wednesday’s violence, suggesting that it was the public’s responsibility to warn officials of such dangers.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” Trump said in a Thursday tweet. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

Cruz, who had been expelled from the school where he allegedly staged his attack for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, made a brief court appearance on Thursday and was ordered held without bond.

“He’s a broken human being,” his lawyer, public defender Melissa McNeill, told reporters. “He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful.”

Wednesday’s shooting ranks as the greatest loss of life from school gun violence since the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 first-graders and six adult educators dead.

News of the FBI’s mishandling of the last month’s tip about Cruz came as families of the 17 victims began to bury their dead. The first two funerals were for Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, a high school athlete and Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old senior who had been headed to Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

Brian Gately, a friend of the Alhadeff family, said he attended Alyssa’s funeral and that the synagogue was so packed he had to stand in the rear.

“There was just really a lot of sadness in there,” Gately, a 51-year-old financial adviser who lives in Parkland said. The burial became more emotional, he added, saying, “People were yelling, ‘No, no.’ Kids were yelling, ‘No, no.'”

Trump tweeted on Friday morning that he would leave for Florida later in the day to meet people whose “lives had been totally shattered” by the shooting.

 

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

FBI chief calls unbreakable encryption ‘urgent public safety issue’

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Christopher Wray delivers remarks to a graduation ceremony at the FBI Academy on the grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Virginia, U.S. December 15, 2017.

By Dustin Volz

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The inability of law enforcement authorities to access data from electronic devices due to powerful encryption is an “urgent public safety issue,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday as he sought to renew a contentious debate over privacy and security.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to access data from nearly 7,800 devices in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 with technical tools despite possessing proper legal authority to pry them open, a growing figure that impacts every area of the agency’s work, Wray said during a speech at a cyber security conference in New York.

The FBI has been unable to access data in more than half of the devices that it tried to unlock due to encryption, Wray added.

“This is an urgent public safety issue,” Wray added, while saying that a solution is “not so clear cut.”

Technology companies and many digital security experts have said that the FBI’s attempts to require that devices allow investigators a way to access a criminal suspect’s cellphone would harm internet security and empower malicious hackers. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have expressed little interest in pursuing legislation to require companies to create products whose contents are accessible to authorities who obtain a warrant.

Wray’s comments at the International Conference on Cyber Security were his most extensive yet as FBI director about the so-called Going Dark problem, which his agency and local law enforcement authorities for years have said bedevils countless investigations. Wray took over as FBI chief in August.

The FBI supports strong encryption and information security broadly, Wray said, but described the current status quo as untenable.

“We face an enormous and increasing number of cases that rely heavily, if not exclusively, on electronic evidence,” Wray told an audience of FBI agents, international law enforcement representatives and private sector cyber professionals. A solution requires “significant innovation,” Wray said, “but I just do not buy the claim that it is impossible.”

Wray’s remarks echoed those of his predecessor, James Comey, who before being fired by President Donald Trump in May frequently spoke about the dangers of unbreakable encryption.

Tech companies and many cyber security experts have said that any measure ensuring that law enforcement authorities are able to access data from encrypted products would weaken cyber security for everyone.

U.S. officials have said that default encryption settings on cellphones and other devices hinder their ability to collect evidence needed to pursue criminals.

The matter came to a head in 2016 when the Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to force Apple Inc to break into an iPhone used by a gunman during a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

The Trump administration at times has taken a tougher stance on the issue than former President Barack Obama’s administration. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in October chastised technology companies for building strongly encrypted products, suggesting Silicon Valley is more willing to comply with foreign government demands for data than those made by their home country.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Will Dunham)

Violent crime in U.S. rose in 2016 vs. 2015: Justice Department

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Violent crime rose 4.1 percent nationwide in 2016 compared to the 2015 estimates, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.

Violent crime, which the report defines as non-negligent killings, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, had steadily dropped since 2006, but had increased slightly in 2015, according to the annual report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The report … reaffirms that the worrying violent crime increase that began in 2015 after many years of decline was not an isolated incident,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The report said an estimated 1.2 million violent crimes took place across the country in 2016, an increase of 4.1 percent over the 2015 estimate.

In cities with populations larger than 100,000, the violent crime rate in 2016 was up 3.4 percent compared to the estimate from 2015.

President Donald Trump, who took office in January, has said he would do more to fight criminal gangs and would send in federal help to stem violent crime in Chicago.

The Justice Department has reversed or distanced itself from many of the Obama administration’s policies, including consent decrees to reform police departments and limits on transferring certain types of military gear to local law enforcement agencies.

 

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott)