On Wednesday, Feb. 14, at around 2:20 p.m., Nikolas Cruz, 19, exited a car that he had prearranged from Uber. Carrying a black duffel bag and a black backpack, he headed into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The school was preparing for dismissal.
Within two minutes, the school went into “Code Red” and locked down. Cruz had allegedly opened fire with a .223 caliber AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in a first-floor hallway; 17 people were dead. Law enforcement officers said Cruz fired at least 100 shots.
Less than two hours later, Cruz was arrested without incident as he was walking down a street. He is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
As the horrible event unfolded in Parkland and continues to affect the community there, as well as communities across the country, details about Cruz and his life have emerged. Cruz was apparently a troubled young man, but many signals went unnoticed or overlooked.
Cruz began having problems in middle school and they escalated quickly. Officials reported that Cruz had vocal outbursts, drew drawings of stick figures with guns and even wrote threatening statements on his homework, including a reference to killing then President Barack Obama, saying he should be ‘‘burned alive and eaten.’’
There were numerous disciplinary issues with Cruz; in fact, some teachers banned him from their classrooms in middle school because of his unpredictable behavior. He was barred from bringing a backpack to the school and security had to search him to ensure he didn’t have weapons.
Disciplinary records obtained by WPLG-TV in Miami reveal that in middle school, Cruz was involved in fights, patterns of unruly behavior, insults and profanity. Cruz lashed out physically, randomly bumping other students in the hallways, appearing to want to pick fights and at times breaking out into profanity-laced outbursts without any obvious trigger.
Teachers referred Cruz to individual and family counseling; they held parent conferences and called social workers; they sent him to in-school suspension; and they sent him off campus. They sent him to a school for emotionally disturbed youths and after he was disciplined for an assault at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They asked for an assessment of the threat he posed to his school. Eventually, Cruz was expelled.
A sixth-grade teacher said that teachers worked ‘‘very, very, very hard’’ to get Cruz to a school center that would help him address his issues. The teacher said that process took years and required a lot of of paperwork to back up Cruz’s needs.
Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender representing Cruz, said the shooting was avoidable.
Finkelstein said the red flags were there and the school, the mental health system and the FBI all failed his client.
The FBI admitted it failed to investigate a recent tip that Cruz seemed capable of violence and might shoot up a school.
Finkelstein called it a complete “multi-system failure.”
Cruz was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism. He was depressed, had been cutting himself, and was interested in buying a gun. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel revealed that his office received calls for two years about the reportedly troubled teen – about 20 calls in total, it has been reported.
The FBI admitted it failed to properly notify a Miami field office of a warning from someone close to Cruz. That prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to call on Friday for FBI Director Christopher Wray’s resignation.
“Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it,” Scott said.
Documents from Broward County Sheriff’s Office report that police responded to Cruz’s home 39 times over a seven-year period. The nature of the calls included “mentally ill person,” “child/elderly abuse,” “domestic disturbance” and “missing person,” KTLA reported.
Cruz posted pictures of himself on Instagram posing with guns and knives, and made an alarming online comment about a recent mass shooting.
“Man I can do so much better,” he wrote.
Cruz’s adoptive mother died in November of pneumonia. His adoptive father died of a heart attack more than a decade ago.
James and Kimberly Snead, the Florida couple who took Cruz into their home, told CNN the depressed 19-year-old owned multiple guns, but they felt safe knowing the weapons were under lock and key.
Law enforcement told CNN that Cruz had obtained at least 10 firearms, all of them rifles.
A CNN investigation found that Cruz was in a private Instagram group chat where he discussed killing small animals, and even posted a picture of a disemboweled frog.