Before the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz left signs on social media and in his behavior that led some to believe he was capable of gun violence. On Wednesday, he took an AR-15-style rifle to his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and opened fire, killing 17 people.
Cruz reportedly had a difficult life. His father died from a heart attack when he was young, according to a relative who spoke with the Sun Sentinel. His mother, Lynda Cruz, who adopted Cruz the day he was born, died on Nov. 1 after a battle with pneumonia. She was 68. After Lynda died, Cruz and his biological brother, Zachary Cruz, when to live with a family friend.
“I know she had been having some issues with them, especially the older one. He was being a problem. I know he did have some issues and he may have been taking medication. [He] did have some kind of emotional problems or difficulties,” Barbara Kumbatovich, a relative who lives in Long Island, New York, told the Sun Sentinel. “[Lynda] kept a really close handle on both boys. They were not major issues, as far as I know, just things teenagers do like not coming home on time, maybe being disrespectful.”
Attorney Jim Lewis told the Sun Sentinel that Cruz asked a family friend if he could move in around Thanksgiving. That family, which Lewis represents, agreed to do so. The family is now cooperating with investigators.
“The family is devastated, they didn’t see this coming. They took him in and it’s a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished,” Lewis said. “He was a little quirky and he was depressed about his mom’s death, but who wouldn’t be?”
Cruz confessed to the shooting, according to the police report. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Here are 10 warning signs that were missed.
In September 2017, Ben Bennight, a Mississippi bail bondsman who also posts videos on YouTube, noticed a disturbing YouTube comment left by a user named "Nikolas Cruz." The comment read, "Im going to be a professional school shooter." Bennight reported the comment to the FBI in Mississippi, he told Buzzfeed News.
The FBI confirmed it did receive the tip, but could not find details about the "Nikolas Cruz" account.
"No other information was included in the comment, which would indicate a time, location, or true identity of the person who made the comment," special agent Robert Lasky said in the press conference. "The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who made the comment."
Cruz's Instagram page was covered with photos showing his weapons. One photo showed him giving the middle finger while wearing an Army cap. Others showed him carring knives.
Another showed him with a BB-gun. Another is a screenshot of a Maverick 88 Slug long rifle. Dakota Mutchler, a junoir at the school, told USA Today that Cruz also posted about killing animals and doing target practice in his backyard.
"He started progressively getting a little more weird," Mutchler said.
In Florida, it is easier purchase an AR-15-style weapon than a handgun. When a person turns 18, it is legal to buy a semiautomiac rifle, but they must wait until 21 to buy a handgun, notes The New York Times.
This is why it is common to see mass shooters use it, even outside of Florida. The National Rifle Association says it is the most popular rifle in the U.S. It was used at Newtown, San Bernardino, Las Vegas and in other shootings.
Peter J. Forcelli, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami, confirmed that no laws were broken when Cruz bought his weapon.
Cruz bought it before moving into the house of a friend's family, but they required him to keep it in a lockbox. The family's attorney, Jim Lewis, told the Times that they encouraged Cruz to go to adult education classes, but he refused to go the day of the shooting.
Cruz was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year after fighting with his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend.
"The reason he got expelled was because he was fighting with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend," Connor Dietrich, a 17-year-old junior, told the New York Post. "He stalked her and threatened her," Dietrich recalled.
"He was like, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and he would say awful things to her and harass her to the point I would walk her to the bus just to make sure she was OK. We all made sure she was never alone.”
Sophia Serino told the Post Cruz talked about shootings before, but a friend talked him down.
“It wasn’t something that was spontaneous. I think he really planned this," Serino said.
Neighbors told The New York Times they believed Cruz was a troubled boy. Helen Pasciolla said his mother often called sheriff's deputies to keep her son "in line." Craig Koblitz, who lives across the street, said other neighbors suspected he robbed a house a few years ago. Six years ago, Koblitz saw Cruz scooping fish from a pond, showing no guilt after being caught stealing.
“He had emotional problems and I believe he was diagnosed with autism,” Gold told the Times. “He had trouble controlling his temper. He broke things. He would do that sometimes at our house when he lost his temper. But he was always very apologetic afterwards.
“He would sometimes be hitting his head and covering his ears. One time, I sent him home because he was misbehaving at our house and he took a golf club and smashed one of my trailers.” Gold also said Cruz's mother meant everything to him." Gold added.
"His mother was his entire life and when he lost her, I believe that was it for the boy’s peace of mind."
Cruz's neighbors also recall that he shot chickens with his pellet gun. He also tortured other animals, turning his god loose on potbellty pigs, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“He would come in with combat boots on and camouflage clothing all the time,” said Tony Elias, who was a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps with Cruz. “He said he enjoyed killing small animals and he was really fascinated by guns. It was kind of an unhealthy obsession.”
Malcolm Roxburgh, a former neighbor, told the Wall Street Journal that Cruz shot at chickens owned by another neighbor. When another neighbor confronted him, he threw an egg at the neighbor's truck. Roxburgh said that when Cruz moved away, everyone was "relieved on this street that they had gone."
Jim Gard, a math teacher, told the Miami Herald that Cruz was considered a threat in the past. The school sent out an email warning teachers about Cruz's threats to other teenagers.
One student told the paper Cruz once brought bullet casings to school and was punished. Gard said Cruz was not allowed to bring a backpack to school.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” Gard said. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
Gard kept six kids locked in his classroom during the shooting.
Several students told Jim Gard that Cruz became interested with another girl at the high school "to the point of stalking her," he told the New York Times.
Gard described Cruz as "quiet and not disruptive," but he also told the Times about the warnings teachers received from administrators.
“He was always to himself and never tried to associate himself with anyone,” student Brandon Minoff told CNN. “As far as I know, he didn’t have any friends.”
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN that Cruz was getting treatment at a mental health clinic, but he stopped going over a year ago.
"It wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him,” Furr told CNN. “We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren’t connected. … In this case, we didn’t find a way to connect with this kid.”
"You keep your eyes on those kids who become disconnected — you know, they're out on the fringes. And as a teacher, you try to bring them into the fold, so to speak, in one way or another," Furr told WBUR. "It's part of our mission to make sure that kids become part of the overall community — and when one gets away, it's just sad."
Despite his past at a mental facility, he still passed a background check that allowed him to buy his weapon legally.
Joshua Charo, a former classmate, told the Miami Herald he was not shocked to hear about Cruz, considering his past experiences with him.
“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” Charo said. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”
“Our investigators began dissecting social media,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told the media Wednesday. “Some of the things that come to mind are very, very disturbing.”