Police officers responding to last week’s Florida school shooting thought they were tracking Nikolas Cruz live on surveillance video — but then realized the footage was delayed by nearly 30 minutes because it was rewound, tossing roadblocks into the frantic efforts to capture the 19-year-old shooting suspect.
Responding officers were watching security footage in Broward School District that occurred 20 minutes prior, leaving them in the dark when attempting to look for Cruz in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 13, the Sun Sentinel first reported Wednesday. Cruz was captured in Coral Springs, located about a mile away, more than an hour after the start of the shooting.
“One of the things we try to do is, whenever we get to some place, like in this particular situation, we always try to review video camera footage,” Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi said in a Thursday evening news conference. “It helps us not only identify what happened but possibly where the perpetrator is. In this case, there was a 20-minute delay.”
Cruz walked into the campus’ freshman building around 2:21 p.m. and began firing at students and staff, killing 17 people, police said. He left the school seven minutes later, blending in with terrified students.
Responding officers were heard on radio transmissions at 2:54 p.m. saying they were seeing Cruz on camera going from the third to the second floor. By that time, Cruz had been out of the building for 26 minutes, according to the newspaper.
“He went from the third floor to the second floor...They’re monitoring him on camera,” an officer was heard saying on the radio transmission released by Broadcastify. Pustizzi recalled officers attempting to pinpoint Cruz when the shooter wasn’t even in the building.
Pustizzi said the delay never impacted the rescue efforts or placed the students and teachers’ lives in danger.
“The delay was simply when we got there, and the Sheriff’s Office and our officers and other officers from the community went into that building,” Pustizzi said. “The issue was more of a communication failure on who was reviewing the tape, letting our guys know that it was a 20-minute delay with what they were reviewing.”
On a radio transmission from the day of the shooting, an officer finally said, “It’s about a 20-minute delay, they’re following him on video, on the camera…They have him exiting the building, running south.”
Pustizzi said in the news conference: “There was nothing wrong with their equipment, their equipment works. It’s just that when the person was reviewing the tape from 20 minutes earlier, somehow that wasn’t communicated to the officers.”
Broward County School District also clarified on Thursday the high school’s security cameras do play in real time, but they were rewound 20 minutes that day to retrace Cruz’s actions, according to WSVN.
Miscommunication was one of the several factors that contributed to the chaos and confusion that day. When Cruz left the building around 2:28 p.m., police officers believed the gunman was just entering the school. Police also had issues locating and accessing the security cameras.
“We need somebody with the camera systems ASAP,” said an officer at 2:43 p.m., about 15 minutes after gunfire stopped. “Where’s the principal? Who’s with the principal? And we need to start making a plan here.”
At one point, police were looking for officer Scot Peterson because he knew where to access the cameras — but Peterson was not in the freshman building at the time. Peterson ultimately resigned on Thursday after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel revealed the school resource deputy “never went in” the building during the attack despite being on the school campus.
Some of the radio transmissions also couldn’t be heard due to the outdated system.
“You can hear me, but I cannot hear you, so standby,” a dispatcher said at 2:56 p.m. about the malfunctioning communications devices.
While officers were still scouring the school, Cruz went to Walmart and purchased a drink at Subway at 2:50 p.m., according to the sheriff’s office timeline. Eleven minutes later, he walked into a McDonald’s, sat down and left.
At 4:11 p.m., Broward Sheriff’s Office said the shooter was in custody.
Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. A series of reports indicating possible warning signs have emerged since the deadly shooting, including Cruz’s history of violent threats and trouble in school. The FBI also admitted last week it had not acted on a tip made Jan. 5 that Cruz wanted to “kill people” and the tipster feared the “potential of him conducting a school shooting.”