At the beginning of 2017, Nikolas Cruz's teachers and counselors referred him out of their school due to his deteriorating mental health, according to a new interview with the superintendent.
Robert Runcie, the Superintendent of Broward County Schools, told reporters from USA Today that Cruz's behavioral problems and disciplinary actions were stacking up by the end of 2016. When the new year came, a group of Stoneman Douglas staffers recommended Cruz for the Cross Creek School, a program that offered comprehensive mental health services, as well as smaller classes.
"He declined," Runcie told the outlet. “When a kid turns 18, we can’t force an adult to receive those services.”
Those faculty members returned to Stoneman Douglas High on Monday for the first time since Cruz attacked the school with an AR-15 assault rifle on Valentine's Day. Cruz has confessed to the shooting and his legal counselors are leaning on the argument that school officials missed opportunities to intervene in his violent displays of mental illness, which ultimately could have prevented the tragedy. They say their client should be spared from the death penalty.
Runcie said that Stoneman Douglas High staff has been concerned about Cruz for years. USA Today obtained Cruz's disciplinary records, which reportedly showed the various reports against him and the recommendations of school officials. Cruz attended Cross Creek from early 2014 to the end of 2015, and no behavioral problems were reported in that time.
In September of 2016, another Stoneman Douglas student reported Cruz to police, saying he was depressed, had cut himself and even ingested gasoline on campus in a suicide attempt. The same student said that Cruz had drawn a swastika on his backpack, along with a racial slur.
Cruz was also analyzed by counselors from Henderson Behavior Services, who told police Cruz "was not a risk to harm himself or anyone else," because of the treatement plans he was on for ADHD, depression, OCD and autism.
One school counselor told DCF investigators that she voiced concerns at the time that the Henderson assessment might be premature, but the file was closed six weeks later.
Cruz's problems didn't begin at Stoneman Douglas High. A the age of 14, he reportedly had 29 incidents on file in Westglades Middle School, including fights and unruly behavior.
The Henderson staff said that Cruz's combination of medication, counseling, plus the influence of his attentive mother gave him structure and stability. After he turned down the Cross Creek referral just over a year ago, Cruz enrolled at Henry D. Perry Education Center and Rock Island Professional Development Center. These alternative programs allowed students like Cruz to make up credits while receiving mental health services, all in at an off-campus site.
However, when Cruz's mother passed away in November of 2017, his life became uncertain and shaky again. A school social worker reportedly called police when Cruz's younger brother stopped attending classes at Stoneman Douglas altogether, “concerned that legal guardianship was never filed."
Under the Baker Act in Florida, students can be involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness. Cruz's case and other parts of the investigation center around why this option was never exercised on him. Sharon Langer, a lawyer at the Disability Independence Group, told reporters that vulnerable adults only have their right to decline treatment taken away in extreme cases.
“Somebody has to be really, really incompetent,” Langer said. “You can’t just take people and lock them away.”