Parkland Shooting Investigation: Cruz’s Violent Acts Well-Known, But Not Reported or Acted On

By Benjamin Herold — November 13, 2018 3 min read
A makeshift memorial is seen outside the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 19, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting on Feb. 14.
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Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz displayed a mounting pattern of troubling and violent behavior, much of which played out on social media but went unreported or unacted upon, according to the state commission charged with investigating the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Among the incidents: Instagram posts in which Cruz displayed an arsenal of weapons and a frog that he had killed; reports from classmates that Cruz was using a school computer to look up information on firearms and how to make a nail bomb; and an Instagram message in which Cruz allegedly told a female classmate he would “kill her, rape her, hurt her family, and kill all the people that she cared about.”

“In the aggregate, it was obvious that Cruz’s behavior was escalating over time,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which is meeting here this week.

The commission, comprised of law enforcement officials from other counties and family members of some of the students killed in the Parkland attack, is charged with identifying and addressing issues raised by the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas, which left 17 students and staff members dead and 17 more injured.

All told, Gualtieri revealed Tuesday, approximately 30 people had information on Cruz that was not reported until after the mass shooting.

Seven of those people had information involving Cruz killing or behaving cruelly towards animals, including multiple incidents in which classmates said Cruz had brought dead and decapitated animals to school.

Nineteen people had information on Cruz possessing knives, bullets, or firearms‐including an instance in which a classmate later told authorities that Cruz had showed him a “lunchbox full of bullets” at an off-campus learning center.

Eleven people were aware of statements in which Cruz expressed a desire to hurt or kill people. One individual, a bank employee who spoke regularly with Cruz’s adoptive mother Lynda Cruz on the phone, described repeatedly hearing Cruz threaten to kill Lynda and burn her house down. According to a description of the bank employee’s testimony relayed during Tuesday’s meeting, Lynda Cruz described her adoptive son as “evil.” She told the woman, “if anything happens to me, you know it was Nik.”

And three people said they’d heard him make statements about wanting to shoot up a school, but didn’t report it until after the Parkland tragedy. Among them: a co-worker at the Dollar Tree, who said Cruz told her “he could go shoot up Stoneman Douglas, and he could shoot her too,” according to the presentation made at the safety commission meeting.

The details revealed by the state commission fit in with a larger pattern in which officials from law enforcement, mental health agencies, and public schools appear to have missed possible warning signs related to Cruz. Before the shooting, the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to 49 calls involving Cruz or his address, and Cruz was evaluated multiple times by mental-health workers before being deemed to not be a threat to himself or others.

The Broward County school district has also received criticism for mishandling some of Cruz’s special education services and for backtracking on its initial claims that Cruz never took part in a diversionary disciplinary program.

Students say school leaders didn’t act on their reports of threats

During Tuesday’s presentation, commissioners described testimony from Stoneman Douglas students indicating that they reported troubling incidents, including a threat to shoot up the school, to school administrators.

The students claimed that Assistant Principal Jeff Morford didn’t appear to take the claims seriously. Morford denied that he was told the information, according to the commission presentation. The Sun Sentinel reported the details of how one student reported to Morford that Cruz had been looking at guns on a school computer and made disturbing statements about seeing people in pain. The student’s father told the newspaper that Morford told his son to mind his own business.

Later this week, Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie will testify before the commission, as will Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Scot Peterson, the former school resource officer who resigned in disgrace after the shootings, has been subpoenaed to testify before the commission, but it’s not clear yet if he will appear this week.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.