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Air Force missed at least two chances to stop Texas shooter from buying guns

Reuters

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The U.S. Air Force missed at least two chances to block the shooter in last weekend’s deadly church attack in Texas from buying guns after he was accused of a violent offense in 2012, according to current and former government officials and a review of military documents.

A third opportunity to flag shooter Devin Kelley was lost two years later by a twist of bad luck when a Pentagon inspection of cases narrowly missed the former airman.

The Air Force said on Monday it had failed to provide information as required about Kelley’s criminal history to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s criminal databases. It gave few other details about the omission.

A review of Department of Defense procedures by Reuters shows that the military twice should have flagged Kelley, then serving at a New Mexico base, after he was accused of repeatedly beating his wife and stepson.

If Pentagon rules had been followed, the Air Force should have put Kelley into national criminal databases used for background checks soon after he was charged.

The Air Force should then have flagged Kelley, 26, again later that year after his court-martial conviction for assault, which permanently disqualified him from legally getting a gun.

When presented with this account of how the FBI was not alerted about Kelley, Air Force officials confirmed the procedures that should have happened.

“That is what the investigation is looking at now,” Brooke Brzozowske, an Air Force spokeswoman, said. The FBI confirmed it never received Kelley’s records.

Kelley bought guns from a store in Texas in 2016 and 2017, although it is not clear whether these were the weapons he used last Sunday to attack churchgoers in Sutherland Springs before killing himself. Authorities said he killed 26 people, including a pregnant woman’s unborn child.

If the Air Force had flagged Kelley to the FBI either when he was charged and convicted, he would have been unable to get a gun legally.

Reuters has been unable to determine exactly how or why Kelley’s records were not shared.

Kelley also narrowly slipped through the system in 2014 when the Pentagon’s inspector general told the Air Force it was routinely failing to send criminal records to the FBI, and urged them to correct this in some old cases like Kelley’s

The then inspector general, Jon Rymer, raised the alarm with the military.

He looked at 358 convictions against Air Force employees between June 2010, and October 2012. In about a third of those cases, fingerprints and court-martial outcomes were wrongly not relayed to the FBI, the inspector general’s report said.

Rymer recommended that the Air Force send what missing fingerprints and records it could from his sample period to the FBI, and the Air Force agreed. But Kelley was convicted in November 2012, a week after the sample period ended, and it appears that his case was never looked at again.

The inspector general’s office said it was investigating what happened with Kelley’s file, and suggested that the military should have done more after its report to correct errors in sharing information.

“Our recommendations, while directed at the period that was reviewed and future investigations, also applied to the entire system,” said Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office.

Reuters

FIRST MISTAKE

According to statements from the Air Force and FBI and a review of Defense Department rules, the first mistake came when the Air Force failed to send along Kelley’s fingerprints.

The military makes it mandatory to collect fingerprints when someone is accused of a serious crime such as assault, as Kelley was in June 2012.

By then, the U.S. military had recently switched to using the FBI’s automated records-submission system for all fingerprints, which digitally scans prints and adds them to FBI databases.

It was not clear what happened to Kelley’s fingerprints. The Air Force said it was investigating whether they were even taken.

Entering his fingerprints and other information in the FBI’s so-called Interstate Identification Index (III) would have been enough to flag Kelley as needing further investigation in 2016 when he tried to buy a gun at a San Antonio store.

“When they hit on a record like that they delay the transaction,” said Frank Campbell, a former Justice Department employee who helped develop the FBI’s background check system that licensed gun dealers must consult before a potential sale.

The FBI would then have asked the Air Force the outcome of Kelley’s case. The airman was convicted of a crime involving domestic violence that carries a maximum penalty of more than one year in prison, both of which disqualify a person from buying guns and ammunition under federal law.

The FBI could have then added Kelley’s name to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Indices (NICS Indices), which would mean he would instantly fail future background checks.

Instead, Kelley cleared the background check and walked out of the store with a gun, and returned the following year, passed another background check and bought a second one, the store said.

According to Defense Department rules, the Air Force should have caught its error after Kelley’s court-martial ended when it was obliged to notify the FBI that Kelley had been convicted, and that his crime involved domestic violence

The FBI said on Wednesday it had no record in its three databases for background checks, including the III database and the NICS Indices, of ever receiving information from the Air Force about Kelley’s conviction.

Air Force officials said it was the responsibility of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the force’s law enforcement agency, to take fingerprints and share any necessary information with the FBI, and it was not immediately clear why it had not.

 

(Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Alistair Bell)

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Armed deputy who failed to confront gunman at Florida school resigns

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The armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Florida high school where 17 people were shot dead has resigned rather than face suspension after an internal investigation showed he failed to enter the school to confront the gunman during the attack, the county sheriff said on Thursday.

Deputy Scot Peterson, who was on duty and in uniform as the resource officer posted at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was the only law enforcement officer present on Feb. 14 when the rampage started, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said.

Peterson’s actions were caught on video during the massacre, which ranks as the second-deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. public school, carried out by a lone gunman wielding a semiautomatic AR-15-style assault rifle.

Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student, was later arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the assault.

“What I saw was a deputy arrive at the west side of Building 12, take up a position and he never went in,” Israel said, referring to the building on campus where authorities said the bulk of the shooting occurred.

Israel told reporters the shooting in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland lasted six minutes, and that Peterson reached the building under attack about 90 seconds after the first shots were fired, then lingered outside for at least four minutes.

Asked what the deputy should have done, Israel replied, “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”

Peterson has not given a reason for why he did not enter the building, Israel said. Neither the deputy nor any representatives could immediately be reached for comment.

Israel said he had decided on the basis of his review of the video to suspend Peterson, but the deputy resigned first.

The sheriff said two other deputies have been placed on restricted duty pending an internal investigation into whether they properly handled two telephone tips, received in 2016 and 2017, warning that Cruz might be inclined to commit a school shooting.

Authorities have said that Cruz, who was expelled from Stoneman Douglas High last year for unspecified disciplinary problems, made his getaway moments after the shooting by blending in with students fleeing the school for safety.

LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE UNDER SCRUTINY

Police officers arriving on the scene from the adjacent city of Coral Springs thought the gunman was still inside as they searched the building, based on a security camera video feed that they mistakenly believed was showing them real-time images but was actually footage from 20 minutes earlier.

Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi told reporters on Thursday that the confusion stemmed from human error and a “communication failure,” not malfunctioning equipment. He insisted that the mishap did not put any lives in danger.

Still, the disclosure may help explain the time lapse between the shooting and the suspect’s arrest.

The Broward sheriff has said Cruz, after slipping away from the school, casually spent more than an hour drifting through a Walmart store and visiting two fast-food outlets before he was spotted and taken into custody without a struggle.

The shooting has renewed a national debate between proponents of gun rights, as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and advocates for tougher restrictions on firearms.

High school students from Stoneman Douglas and elsewhere around the country have launched a protest and lobbying campaign demanding new curbs on assault weapons. U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested school gun violence could be abated by arming teachers.

On Thursday, the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, lashed out at gun control advocates, accusing liberal elites of politicizing the Florida mass shooting to try to attack “our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

The carnage also has raised questions about whether law enforcement agencies did all they could to detect and follow up on possible warning signs of last week’s gun violence in advance.

The Broward sheriff’s office received at least 18 calls for service or tips about Cruz during the past decade, and internal affairs detectives are still reviewing two of them to determine if they were properly handled, Israel said.

In one instance from February 2016, the sheriff’s office received information from a neighbor’s son that Cruz “planned to shoot up” a school, based on an Instagram post with a picture of a “juvenile with guns,” according to an agency fact sheet released to the media. A deputy subsequently determined Cruz possessed knives and a BB gun and notified a school resource officer, the document said.

In a more recent incident dated Nov. 30, 2017, a caller told the sheriff’s office that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and “could be a school shooter in the making,” according to the fact sheet. The tipster, it said, advised that the weapons were kept at a friend’s house at an unknown location.

A deputy in that case referred the caller to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office because Cruz was said to have moved to that jurisdiction, the Broward sheriff’s office said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation prompted widespread outrage last Friday when it said it had failed to act on a tip warning that a man, since identified as Cruz, had possessed a gun, the desire to kill and the potential to commit a school shooting.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)

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South Korea’s ‘Penis Park’ Grabs Attention of Olympic Visitors

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There’s a park full of giant penises in South Korea.

Believe it or not, the statues were erected for a sweet reason. Watch and find out why.

South Korea's 'Penis Park' Grabs Attention of Olympic Visitors

Get a load of this. There's a 'penis park' in South Korea.

Posted by Better than the Weekend on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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‘I am not going back to school until lawmakers, and the president, change this law’

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By Katanga Johnson

Dozens of students and parents from the Florida high school where 17 teens and staff members died in a shooting rampage boarded buses on Tuesday for a trip to the state capital Tallahassee to push for a ban on assault rifles.

Reuters

Last week’s massacre, the second-deadliest shooting at a public school in U.S. history, has inflamed a national debate about gun rights and prompted teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and across the United States to demand legislative action. The incident has galvanized advocates for stricter gun controls, including many survivors of the shooting.

“I am not going back to school until lawmakers, and the president, change this law,” said Tyra Hemans, an 18-year-old senior, referring to Florida’s law permitting the sale of assault rifles. “Three people I looked to for advice and courage are gone but never forgotten, and for them, I am going to our state capital to tell lawmakers we are tired and exhausted of stupid gun laws.”

Fourteen students and three educators were killed in the Feb. 14 attack at the school in Parkland, near Fort Lauderdale. Authorities have charged Nikolas Cruz, 19, with 17 counts of premeditated murder for allegedly returning to the school from which he had been expelled and opening fire with a semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle.

The youth-led protest movement that erupted within hours of the shooting attracted a prominent celebrity supporter on Tuesday when actor George Clooney and his wife Amal, a human rights lawyer, said they would donate $500,000 to help fund a planned March 24 gun control march in Washington.

Reuters

A Washington Post/ABC News opinion poll released on Tuesday showed 77 percent of Americans believe the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, with 62 percent saying President Donald Trump, also a Republican, has not done enough on that front.

Trump said on Tuesday he had signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to draw up regulations banning devices that turn firearms into machine guns, like the bump stock used in October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

MARCHES IN FLORIDA, TENNESSEE

Students in states including Florida and Tennessee staged sympathy protests on Tuesday, according to local media reports. Miami’s WTVJ-TV showed video of about 1,000 teens and adults marching from a high school in Boca Raton to the site of the Parkland shooting, about 12 miles (19 km) to the west.

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature has taken up at least two bills during its current session intended to provide broader access to guns. On Tuesday the state House turned down an attempt to bring up a bill that would block sales of assault rifles, News Service Florida reported.

State Senator Bill Galvano, the chamber’s next president, called for a bill to limit sales of assault rifles to people at least 21 years old, with some exceptions, up from the current minimum age of 18. The legislature’s current session ends on March 9, leaving little time for a vote.

Current U.S. high school students were born after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in which a pair of teen gunmen killed 13 people. There have been numerous mass shootings, not just in schools, since then in the United States, and students in this age group have grown up in an environment where they regularly train for the possibility of being targeted by a shooter on the loose in school.

Gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and remains one of the nation’s more divisive issues. The Washington Post/ABC News poll found that fewer than seven in 10 Republicans support the idea of a ban on assault weapons, the reverse of Democrats, 71 percent of whom support it. A federal ban on assault weapons, in force for 10 years, expired in 2004.

Funerals continued for the young victims of Wednesday’s attack.

Reuters

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday said it made a rare posthumous letter of acceptance to Peter Wang, a student of the school killed in the shooting. A Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, Wang had aspired to attend the elite academy.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)

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