The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Parkland families reach $127.5 million settlement with Justice Dept. over mass shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz enters the courtroom for a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale in 2019.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz enters the courtroom for a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale in 2019. (Amy Beth Bennett/AP)

The federal government has reached a tentative $127.5 million settlement with the families of victims of a 2018 mass shooting at a Florida high school, who sued over the FBI’s failure to act on warnings that the gunman was planning an attack, a person familiar with the agreement said.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a notice in federal court Monday saying the parties are “working to finalize additional details before submission for final approval by the appropriate Department of Justice official.”

The exact terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but a person familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because all of the details were not finalized, said the agreement was for about $127.5 million, distributed among the families of the victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla.

The settlement comes a month after the Justice Department agreed to pay $88 million to the families of those killed at a 2015 shooting at a historic Black church in Charleston, S.C. — which occurred after the FBI did not conduct a thorough gun-purchase background check of that gunman.

How a system built to stop the Parkland school shooter broke down

“The word ‘closure’ is not a word I like to use in these instances, because there’s no such thing as closure for these families who have suffered the way they did,” said Kristina Infante, of the law firm Podhurst Orseck, who was lead counsel for the 40 Parkland families suing the Justice Department. “It’s something different than that . . . it’s turning the page.”

The Florida gunman, Nikolas Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty last month to killing 14 students and three faculty members in the February 2018 Parkland massacre. A jury trial is planned to determine whether he should face the death penalty or life in prison.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked Nikolas Cruz on Oct. 20 if he understood that his decision would be irreversible as he plead guilty to killing 17 people. (Video: Reuters)

A day before Cruz’s guilty plea, families of his victims and dozens of others who were injured or traumatized reached a $25 million settlement with the Broward County school district, settling most of the negligence suits filed against local officials in connection with the shooting.

The FBI’s failure to investigate a January 2018 tip before the Parkland massacre was one of numerous warning signs that authorities failed to pursue. On at least three other occasions, including multiple calls to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, authorities were told that Cruz was a potential school shooter.

At a Christmas parade, ‘comfort and joy’ turns to carnage and fear

Those lapses continued until the day he opened fire. A state commission found that there were security lapses at the school and failures by law enforcement officers who responded.

Days after the attack, the FBI acknowledged that it did not follow its own rules for investigating tips related to Cruz.

Officials have said a person close to Cruz called the FBI’s tip line to warn the agency of concerns 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.”

The FBI, however, failed to pass the tip along to its local field office for further investigation, officials have acknowledged.

The Parkland shooting prompted widespread protests against gun violence and calls for stricter gun control laws, but those efforts so far have not led to significant changes.