I can remember when this school shooting happened...I recall seeing the massive news coverage and the immediate deep dive into trying to uncover the shooters past history, his family life, his motives for destroying so many lives.
The fact that the youngest of our society can be harmed in a place meant for educating, for bringing wisdom and knowledge to our children, is unfathomable.
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Transcribed Episode / EP12: The Parkland School Shooting: Nikolas Cruz
This podcast includes content that may not be suitable for some listeners - listener discretion is advised.
[911 Call: February 14, 2018]
911 What is your emergency?
Hi my daughter just uh, texted me from school. She's at Stoneman Douglas, Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, and she said there's an active shooter, and she said she's behind the desk right now, but the shots were close.
The shots were close to her?
...close to her.
She, she's behind the desk...
[Intro Music Begins / Fades]
Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Santa Fe High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School. These names now sadly have a place in history as schools where mass shootings have occurred. These tragedies seem to have all too similar characteristics. They usually involve a lone gunman, in Columbine’s case there were two, who is either a current student or a former student of the school, and they’re usually either a teenager or a young adult.
These incidents have been analyzed by psychologists as they try to narrow down the causes and who is at risk at becoming violent in schools and how we can intervene before thoughts turn into physical actions. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist notes that most of the shooters have led difficult lives and struggle with psychological problems - that there have been multiple failures in their lives.
Many are depressed, paranoid or become desperate. And most never get treatment for their illnesses. Feelings of social rejection also play a role - many of the perpetrators have been bullied or rejected by their peers. When they feel that there is no where to turn, or no ONE to turn to - not even their own families - their feelings of desperation can often turn to anger and feelings of revenge. This is when they begin to fantasize about other similar crimes and look to violence as a way to solve their problem.
Sue Klebold (Dylan Klebold - one of the Columbine shooters’ - mother) spoke to NPR in regards to the signs she missed as a parent: "The piece that I think I failed [in] is, we tend to underestimate the level of pain that someone may be in. We all have a responsibility to stop and think — someone we love may be suffering...may be in a crisis."
Although some may have missed the warning signs and red flags of these dangerous individuals, in this episode we’ll be discussing a case where the signs were noticed...where the potential for violence was brought to the attention of authorities...and yet tragically no one was able to prevent what was to become the deadliest high school shooting in United States history.
On September 24, 1998 Nikolas Cruz was born in Margate Florida. He was adopted when he was just 3 days old by Roger and Lynda Cruz. Lynda was a stay-at-home mom and Roger was in marketing. The couple was not young, Roger was 61 and had four children from a previous relationship and Lynda was nearly 50, but the couple always wanted children. The family lived in a large home in Parkland Florida - Parkland is an affluent city of about 25,000 people that lies in the Miami metroplex and is approximately 50 miles north of the city of Miami. The city itself is described as being “park-like” due to it’s zoning laws limiting the amount of stores and traffic lights.
Just two years later, Nikolas’ brother Zachary was born, and the Cruz’ adopted him as well as they wanted a biological sibling for Nikolas. The boys have different biological fathers but the same mother. Both boys were a result of a one-night-stand and their biological mother had a criminal and drug abuse history.
When Nikolas was 4 years old he was tested and was diagnosed to be developmentally delayed, resulting in placement in special education for most of his life.
On August 11, 2004, when Nikolas was just 6 years old, his adopted father Roger Cruz, passed away at the age of 67, leaving Lynda to raise the two boys as a single mother.
It appeared that from the moment he started school, Nikolas had disciplinary issues. When he reached middle school, his troubles continued, and in August 2012 he was suspended for getting into a fight at Westglades Middle School. During the 2013 school year he received 26 disciplinary incidents, averaging about three per month.
Therapists thought Nikolas could have had autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and he was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. He never learned to drive, but he did ride a bike. His mother believed he would never be able to live on his own because of the mental difficulties that he had.
In January of 2013, Lynda Cruz got into an altercation with Nikolas where he threw her against a wall because she took away his xbox. Lynda called 911 and when a Broward County sheriff responded to the call at their home, she told the deputy that her son had anger issues and ADHD, but she said that he didn’t threaten to harm her or himself.
Nikolas changed schools six times over a three year period as he dealt with disciplinary issues. In the 8th grade, he left Westglades Middle School and enrolled in a school that offered psychiatric and other clinical services on campus. In 2014 he was transferred to Cross Creek School, a school for students with emotional, learning disabilities, or behavioral problems.
Two years later, in his sophomore year, Nikolas left Cross Creek School and enrolled in Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. During his high school years, he had intentions of joining the military so he became a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and received multiple awards - he was also a member of the school’s air rifle team.
During that same year, Florida Dept of Children and Families investigated him for posts that he made on Snapchat in which he cut both of his arms and said he planned to buy a gun. A school resource officer made the suggestion that he undergo an involuntary psychiatric examination, and two guidance counselors agreed to the exam, but a mental institution did not.
Social media was a large part of Nikolas’ life, and he was active on YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. He’d often post photos of himself with various weapons...shotguns, knives, pistols or photos of himself wearing bulletproof vests. He would also post extremist and racist slurs, threats that he would kill people, threats against police officers and even referenced an intent to copy the University of Texas tower shooting.
One of Nikolas’ neighbors whose son said that Cruz posted a picture of himself on Instagram with guns stating that planned to shoot up the school, anonymously reported the post to Broward County Sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office forwarded the information to Stoneman Douglas School’s resource officer.
The sheriff’s office received two reports in September 2016 that Nikolas was trying to hurt himself. Apparently he’d ingested gasoline and was cutting himself, in an attempt to commit suicide. After consulting with a mental health clinician, they confirmed that he did not need to be held under the Baker Act - the Baker Act is a Florida law that enables families and loved ones to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of their mental illness, and who are unable to determine their needs for treatment. Just eight hours later, the sheriff’s office received yet another call to Nikolas’ home that he was hurting himself again and mentioned buying a gun.
During that same month, the Florida Dept of Children and Families opened a case on Nikolas and cited “medical neglect,” describing him as a “vulnerable adult due to mental illness.” The case noted that Nikolas planned to purchase a gun, but it wasn’t known what the gun was going to be used for. Just two months later, the Dept of Children and Families closed their case on Cruz and stated that he suffered from depression, ADHD and autism, and that the “final level of risk is low” and noted that he took medication regularly and kept his appointments.
When he turned 18 and was a junior at Stoneman, Cruz was involved in an assault at Stoneman Douglas and met with school specialists, along with his mother, as his grades and disciplinary problems were continuing to be an issue.
The specialists recommended that Cruz transfer to a different school - Cross Creek in Pompano Beach - which he had attended previously and done very well. Since he was close to graduating at Stoneman, he decided to stay so he could graduate with his class. The specialist told him that if he stayed on, they could no longer give him access to special education services - which apparently was inaccurate, he still COULD have continued to have those services. But it was only a few months after this meeting that he left Stoneman as his grades were continuing to fail. He asked to be admitted to Cross Creek, but they advised him that a new assessment was needed which delayed the process. So Nikolas ultimately enrolled in a General Education Development program where he could finish up his high school education and receive his high school diploma. To make extra money he also obtained a part time job at a local dollar store.
Being 18 years old, he now had the ability to legally purchase weapons. On February 11, 2017, Nikolas walked into the Coral Springs gun store: Sunrise Tactical Supply, and after passing their background check, he purchased an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle. This wasn’t the first weapon Nikolas was able to obtain - prior to this purchase, he had obtained at least 10 other weapons, including an AK-47 which he bought with his mother, one shotgun and several other rifles. Lynda knew her son had a liking for guns, and was “okay” with him purchasing them and practicing with them, because even with as many issues she was having with Nikolas, she knew it would make him happy.
Many students at the schools he attended would later say that Nikolas had anger management issues and would often joke about guns or gun violence and talk about threats of shooting up establishments. One student described him as being “super stressed out all the time and talked about guns a lot and tried to hide his face.”
In September of 2017, Nikolas turned 19 years old. YouTuber Ben Bennight (a Mississippi bail bondsman) noticed a comment made on one of his videos under the name “Nikolas Cruz”, which stated: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” Ben quickly reported this comment to the FBI, but the FBI could not track down the person who made the comment on his YouTube page.
According to public records of the Broward County Sheriff’s log, at least 45 calls were made in reference to Nikolas Cruz, Zachary Cruz or their family home, from 2008-2017.
In late 2017, Lynda Cruz got sick with the flu and ultimately contracted pneumonia. She died at the age of 68, in November, leaving Nikolas and Zachary as orphans. Nikolas took her death especially hard and with nowhere to live, the boys would end up staying with friends, with Nikolas and Zachary initially staying with a family friend Roxanne Deschamps in Lake Worth Florida - a city about 30 miles north of Parkland.
During that same time, one of Lynda Cruz’ cousins notified the Broward County Sheriff’s office that Nikolas had several rifles and that in light of Lynda’s death, they should be taken away, but no action was taken following the report.
While Nikolas and Zachary were staying with Roxanne Deschamps, her son, Rock Deschamps, made a phone call to police telling them that Nikolas had been digging in the backyard for 15 minutes and Rock was positive he was hiding a weapon or that he buried a 9mm handgun. Later that month, Roxanne called 911 after Cruz and her son had gotten into a fight. She told them that Nikolas became violent, had punched walls and had left to go get a gun.
An unknown caller from Massachusetts also apparently called the Broward County Sheriff’s office to tell them that Nikolas Cruz was collecting guns and knives and was either going to harm himself or become a school shooter. The deputy who took the call, referred it to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office as it’s out of their jurisdiction since Nikolas lives in Lake Worth Florida. According to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office, they never received that call.
After about a month of living with the Deschamps, Nikolas left and moved in with another friend’s family, James and Kimberly Snead.
In January of 2018 the FBI received a tip from someone close to Nikolas Cruz saying that they were worried about his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting”. They told the FBI that they were worried that Nikolas was going to be “getting into a school and just shooting the place up.” The FBI did not act on this warning as they said the tip line where the call was received did not follow protocol and report the information to the Miami Field Office, so again - NO action was taken.
It was a typical Wednesday morning on February 14, 2018 in the Snead household. James Snead was preparing to head to work, and Kimberly Snead was sleeping as she didn’t start her nursing shift until the evening. Nikolas told James that he didn’t need a ride to school that morning as he never went to school on Valentine’s Day. He let him know he would be going fishing instead.
Nikolas had no plans of actually going fishing, but instead contacted an Uber driver and had the driver take him to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Wearing a burgundy polo shirt with the school’s logo on its sleeve, black jeans and a black ball cap, he was dropped off at the school at 2:19pm, shortly before school was to end for the day.
Nikolas was carrying a rifle case and a black backpack that contained an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines with swastikas carved into them.
As he entered the school grounds he was immediately spotted by a staff member who recognized him and radioed a colleague to let them know that Nicolas was walking purposefully towards Building number 12, a three story building that contained 30 classrooms usually occupied by approximately 900 students and 30 teachers. The staff member who spotted Cruz later claimed that their training only required them to report threats.
Nikolas Cruz then pulled the fire alarm, which confused the students and staff as they had conducted a fire drill earlier that day. As people began to pour out of the classrooms, Nikolas Cruz started firing randomly at the students and teachers.
At around 2:21pm, the staff member who had seen Cruz heard gunshots and activated a “code red” lockdown. There was an armed school resource officer who was a member of the Broward County Sheriff’s office that was on campus that day. He heard the shots, but remained outside of Building 12, next to building 7.
[Radio Call from School Resource Office, February 14, 2018]