Nikolas Cruz Always in Trouble but Never Expelled From Schools

Years before Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17, his behavior could have been described as an educator's worst nightmare.

Teachers and other students said he kicked doors, cursed at teachers, fought with students, threatened students and even brought a backpack with bullets to school. A string of disciplinary citations for profanity, disobedience, insubordination and disruption appeared on his school record.

While the Miami Herald was unable to obtain Cruz's complete school records, the paper was able to gather documents that detailed Cruz had been transferred six times in three years.

From his traditional middle school, he was transferred to an alternative school for children with emotional and behavior disabilities in 2014 — only to change course two years later and return to a traditional neighborhood school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Cruz was banished from Douglas a year later for disciplinary violations and then toggled between three other alternative placements, the Miami Herald reports.

Contrary to early reports, Cruz was never expelled from Broward schools. Legally, he couldn't be.

"Every student in Broward County is entitled to a free and appropriate education. If there are certain areas where that can't be done, we need to make sure those students are given a place that is the least restrictive environment for their ability and they can thrive," said Broward School Board chair Nora Rupert. "You also want everybody to have safety."

Despite the times Cruz puzzled, disrupted and sometimes scared his schoolmates, he couldn't be expelled from the school system altogether.

"You can't just kick kids out of the public schools because you are afraid of them, or because they are hard to educate," said Stephanie Langer, a Miami special education lawyer and advocate. "It has to be a balance, and I think it's a really hard one."

Disciplinary reports obtained by the Herald show that at Westglades Middle School, which Cruz attended in 2013, he'd been cited numerous times for disrupting class, unruly behavior, insulting or profane language, profanity toward staff, disobedience and other rules violations.

Former classmate at Westglades, Christopher Guerra, said Cruz would sometimes make "disturbing comments." While other students would wait in the hallway for the eighth-grade science teacher to let them into the calssroom, Cruz would sometimes bang and kick the door, Guerra said, yelling profanities at the teacher, telling her to "Open up the f—ing door!"

That same teacher sometimes had to call security to let Cruz into the room and keep an eye on him during class.

Once, during a class party, Cruz asked a teacher if he could have the leftover ice cream, according to what Guerra told his mother at the time. The teacher gave him the tub, telling him not to do anything bad with it.

"As soon as the bell rang, he just threw it everywhere," said Jenny Carbo, Guerra's mother, recounting the story her son told her in eighth grade. One of her friend's children came home that afternoon with his clothes full of ice cream stains, Carbo said.

From Westglades, Cruz was transferred to Cross Creek School, a K-12 alternative placement school for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Retired Broward teacher Joe Carrier taught a woodworking class at Cross Creek while Cruz attended and remembers him as a "quiet kid" who kept to himself and appeared to be "mildly autistic."

He was odd but he never showed any sign of aggression," Carrier said. Cruz never had fights with other students in Carrier's class and never discussed his life outside of school with the teacher.

"He was really withdrawn," Carrier said.

Students at Cross Creek receive regular counseling and school staff is prepared to handle emotional outbursts — but lack of support at a regular school like Stoneman Douglas, where Cruz headed next, can be difficult for kids with behavioral issues, Carrier added.

At Douglas High, Cruz's outbursts and obsessions with weapons were well-known among students and staff. Several students confirmed to the Herald that they reported his stalking and violent threats to school staff, but it was never enough to get him arrested.

Records show discipline being dispensed for fighting, profanity and an "assault," which appears to have led to a referral for a "threat assessment." A few months later, Cruz landed at an Off Campus Learning Center, where he remained for only about five months.

Guerra, Cruz's middle school classmate, would occasionally run into Cruz at Douglas and at the Dollar Tree, where Cruz worked, and said Cruz would tell him how he hated the school. Guerra said Cruz also talked about guns and about how he wanted to buy an AR-15.

Once, about two years ago, Guerra and a friend stopped at the Dollar Tree when Cruz said something particularly troubling when he asked them about the school.

"I'm going to go there and shoot it up," he said, according to Guerra. Then he told Guerra and his friend not to worry, that they would be safe because they had always been nice to him, Guerra said.

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When Guerra and his friend asked Cruz what he was talking about, Cruz said he was kidding. They didn't think he was serious, Guerra said, but the comments still stuck with them.

"He wasn't a mean kid in the sense that he would try and be hurtful to people," Guerra said. "He was just a kid that I feel was looking for a friend and no one was there for him in a time that was rough for him."