Update: The AP now reports that a white nationalist group leader has claimed that Nikolas Cruz was a member of his organization.
Jordan Jereb, leader of the white nationalist militia known as the Republic of Florida, tells the AP that Cruz participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee, saying that he did not know Cruz personally and that he “acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he’s solely responsible for what he just did.” Jereb also added that Cruz had had “trouble with a girl,” stating that he believed the timing of the attack (Valentine’s Day) was intentional.
Original Story: Wednesday afternoon, shortly before 3 p.m. local time, a young man now identified as 19-year old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He was apprehended shortly afterward in Coral Springs, Fla. The attack left 17 people dead, many more injured and a nation wanting answers for actions universally deemed despicable.
Details about Cruz have been trickling out of various news outlets and they paint the picture of a young man dealing with mental illness who ultimately chose an AR-15 as his tool of lashing out.
Cruz was formerly a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was expelled for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, though one student told the Miami Herald that he was found to have brought bullets to school in his backpack. Though the reason for his expulsion is unconfirmed, a teacher at the school, Jim Gard, said Cruz had been identified as a potential threat to other students last year and was banned from bringing a backpack to school.
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie revealed that Cruz was currently enrolled in another Broward County public school in a news conference on Wednesday evening. According to Cruz’s adoptive family’s attorney, Jim Lewis, Cruz was enrolled in adult education classes and was working toward getting his GED, but refused to go to class on Wednesday morning.
Cruz was a member of the U.S. Army JROTC, according to the Daily Mail, and students at the school described him as being “obsessed with knives and guns.” One student told KTRK-TV that Cruz utilized social media to brag about and show off his collection of weapons. “Everything he posts [on social media] is about weapons. It’s sick,” said the student. Another student, speaking to the Miami Herald, said Cruz told him “he would shoot rats with his BB gun.” According to BuzzFeed, a YouTuber noticed disturbing comments posted on his videos from a user named Nikolas Cruz and reported them to the FBI, though at this time it is still unconfirmed whether the user was the same Cruz in question. One comment read, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”
Cruz’s Instagram account, which has since been deleted, featured numerous photos of Cruz clad in black bandanas, beanies and ball caps, showing off his guns. Another picture depicted a used target with bullet holes featuring the caption “Group Therapy.” Another one showed a Google search for the phrase “Allahu Akbar,” which translates to “God is great.” Federal authorities do not believe Cruz’s actions were connected to terrorism.
Beyond his social media accounts and former classmates’ assumptions that he was the kind of person to commit such an action, Cruz was described as a quiet loner who suffered from depression. Speaking to ABC News, a family member of Cruz said he and his younger brother were adopted by Roger and Lydia Cruz. A few years ago, Roger passed away, and Lydia died last November. Lydia had been trying to get Cruz counseling after emotional problems surfaced following the death of his adoptive father, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Attorney Lewis said that Cruz had been struggling with depression and grief after the loss of his mother, but that he hadn’t seen any anger from the young man. “He had never shared any contempt for the school or anybody here. No anger. Just a lot of depression and stuff going on around the loss of his mother,” said Lewis. He also indicated that Cruz possibly had been bullied during his time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which another student confirmed to BuzzFeed.
Cruz and his brother had been staying with a family in Palm Beach County following Lydia’s death. The family’s son was also a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and was in contact with Cruz on the day of the shooting. The two exchanged benign text messages but Lewis stated that those messages contained “nothing to indicate that anything bad was going to happen.” The family knew about the AR-15 rifle Cruz used in the shooting and made him keep it in a gun safe. Sources confirmed to CNN that Cruz legally purchased the gun in the past year and passed a required background check. “They had it locked up and believed that was going to be sufficient, that there wasn’t going to be a problem. Nobody saw this kind of aggression or motive in this kid that he would ever do anything like this,” said Lewis.
More details are sure to follow in the coming days. Cruz is scheduled for his first court hearing on Thursday. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.