Florida Agency Investigated Nikolas Cruz After Violent Social Media Posts — (The New York Times)

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The New York Times

Nikolas Cruz appearing via video feed in court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday. CreditPool photo by Getty Images

PARKLAND, Fla. — A Florida social services agency conducted an in-home investigation of Nikolas Cruz after he exhibited troubling behavior nearly a year and a half before he shot and killed 17 people at his former high school in Florida, a state report shows.

The agency, the Florida Department of Children and Families, had been alerted to posts on Snapchat of Mr. Cruz cutting his arms and expressing interest in buying a gun, according to the report. But after visiting and questioning Mr. Cruz at his home, the department determined he was at low risk of harming himself or others.

The report is the latest indication that Mr. Cruz was repeatedly identified by local and federal agencies as a troubled young man with violent tendencies. The F.B.I. admitted on Friday that it had failed to investigate a tip called into a hotline last month by a person close to Mr. Cruz identifying him as a gun owner intent on killing people, possibly at a school. The local police were called to Mr. Cruz’s house many times for disturbances over several years.

Mr. Cruz also worried officials at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., who on at least one occasion alerted a mobile crisis unit to get him emergency counseling, according to the state report.

Broward County Public Schools disciplinary records obtained on Saturday by The New York Times show Mr. Cruz had a long history of fights with teachers, and was frequently accused of using profane language with school staff. He was referred for a “threat assessment” in January 2017, the last entry in his record, two months after the Department of Children and Families closed its separate investigation into Mr. Cruz’s worrisome behavior.

Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender, whose office is representing Mr. Cruz, said the report was further evidence that Mr. Cruz needed serious help long before the shooting but did not get enough of it.

“This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons

to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “If this isn’t a person who should have gotten someone’s attention, I don’t know who is. This was a multisystem failure.”

The state agency investigated whether Mr. Cruz intended to harm himself in September 2016, when he made the alarming social media posts after an argument with his mother. Mr. Cruz, who had depression, was upset over a breakup with a girlfriend, his mother, Lynda Cruz, told investigators. The report does not say who called in the complaint, which was given “immediate” priority.

The report shows that investigators closed the case about two months later. The agency determined that the “final level of risk is low” — an analysis that one of Mr. Cruz’s counselors at his school felt was premature — because his mother was caring for him, he was enrolled in school and he was receiving counseling. By the time of the shooting, however, Mr. Cruz had lost at least two of those elements: His mother was dead, and he had left Stoneman Douglas High School. It is unclear if he was still seeing a counselor.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cruz, 19, showed up at Stoneman Douglas and unleashed more than 100 rounds from a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle he purchased last February, five months after the state investigation closed. As of Saturday evening, two Broward hospitals were still treating four patients in fair condition, according to Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman.

The office of Mr. Finkelstein, the public defender, suggested that it had offered prosecutors a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“Everybody knows he is guilty. What we are saying is, let’s put him away for life,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “We are not saying the death penalty is not justified; we are saying, let’s not put this community through the trauma and pain of a trial knowing that, three years down the road, one juror could keep him from being put to death.”

Michael J. Satz, the state attorney, said prosecutors would announce their position on the death penalty “at the appropriate time.”

“This certainly is the type of case the death penalty was designed for,” Mr. Satz said in a statement. “This was a highly calculated and premeditated murder of 17 people and the attempted murder of everyone in that school.”

Mr. Cruz’s school disciplinary records show he attended at least six schools, including Cross Creek School, a school for students with emotional problems; Dave Thomas Education Center, an alternative high school for at-risk youth; and an adult education center. He was first identified as developmentally delayed in 2002, when he was 4 years old.

In incidents that began in 2012, when Mr. Cruz was 13, he was disciplined for being disobedient and unruly. In 2013, the records suggest, he was counseled for making a false 911 call.

He was suspended several times in the 2016-17 school year, his last year at Stoneman Douglas, and was frequently reported for prolonged and unexplained absences. In September 2016, he was suspended for two days for fighting, only to return and get suspended again nine days after the fight, this time for hurling profane insults.

That same month, the Department of Children and Families began its investigation into Mr. Cruz. The investigation, first reported by The Sun-Sentinel of South Florida on Friday, was obtained by The Times on Saturday. The state agency had petitioned a court on Friday to make the confidential records public, but the court has yet to do so.

“Mental health services and supports were in place when this investigation closed,” Mike Carroll, the secretary of the Department of Children and Families, said in a statement. Mr. Cruz was investigated as an adult, and the investigation appeared aimed at determining whether he was being neglected.

Agency investigators identified Mr. Cruz, who had turned 18 a few days earlier, as a “vulnerable adult due to mental illness.” In addition to depression, Mr. Cruz had autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the report said. He was regularly taking medication for the A.D.H.D. [most likely Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta or Dexedrine – SSRI Ed]  It was unclear whether he was taking anything for the depression, according to the report.

After the argument with his mother, an investigator visited the family’s home in Parkland, which was clean, clutter-free and did not present any foul odors. The investigator did not see the cuts on Mr. Cruz’s arms: He was wearing long sleeves.

“Mr. Cruz stated that he plans to go out and buy a gun,” the report states. “It is unknown what he is buying the gun for.”

His mother denied that she and her son had argued. She told the investigator that Mr. Cruz did not have a gun, though he did have an air gun she would take away from him when he did not follow rules about shooting only at backyard targets.

His mother, who died in November, told investigators she attributed Mr. Cruz’s behavior to “a breakup with a girl.” Ms. Cruz “stated that she and the girl’s mother told the kids they had to end the relationship because it was unhealthy for everyone,” the report said. Neither the girl nor her mother are named in the report.

A year before, it was discovered that Mr. Cruz had a Nazi symbol and a racial slur on his book bag. His mother said that when she confronted her son about it, Mr. Cruz purported to not know what the sign meant, and she said the family had never expressed negative sentiments toward people of other races. She made him clean it off his bag.

The report noted that a mental health center had been contacted in the past to detain Mr. Cruz under Florida’s Baker Act, which allows the state to hospitalize people for several days if they are a threat to themselves or others. The center determined that he was not such a threat. Had Mr. Cruz been involuntarily committed, state law could have prohibited him from buying a firearm.

The mental health counselor, from Henderson Behavioral Health, had also visited Mr. Cruz at home and had him sign a safety contract.

Despite the assessment, a school counselor remained concerned.

“She said Henderson found him stable enough not to be hospitalized,” the Department of Children and Families investigator wrote of the school counselor. “She stated that the concern she and the other staff had was to ensure that the assessment of Henderson was not premature.”

Henderson Behavioral Health would not comment on Saturday. Neither the mental health counselor nor the school counselor could be reached.

According to the report, investigators also tried to speak to a school police officer, who declined to cooperate.

The Department of Children and Families would have had no way to know if Mr. Cruz’s behavior became more erratic after losing his mother because the agency is not automatically notified of a caretaker’s death, said George Sheldon, a former department secretary.

“It’s hard to second-guess because we don’t know everything that the department knew at the time, but clearly this young man was showing serious signs of a mental health disorder, something that does not pop up overnight,” said Mr. Sheldon, who left the department in 2011 and now oversees a nonprofit foster-care agency in Miami. “He was troubled and about to explode. And the results were devastating.”

Audra Burch reported from Parkland, Fla.; Frances Robles from San Juan, P.R.; and Patricia Mazzei from New York.

 

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Social media paints picture of racist ‘professional school shooter — CNN

By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Madison Park, CNN

Updated 3:21 PM ET, Thu February 15, 2018

(CNN)On social media, Nikolas Cruz did not appear to be a peaceful man. He made quite clear his desire to perpetrate the exact type of violence of which he now stands accused.

Before he allegedly committed one of the worst mass shootings in US history at a Parkland, Florida, high school on Wednesday, police officials say Cruz wrote social media posts so threatening he was twice reported to the FBI.

He hurled slurs at blacks and Muslims, and according to the Anti-Defamation League, had ties to white supremacists. He said he would shoot people with his AR-15 and singled out police and anti-fascist protesters as deserving of his vengeance. Just five months ago, he stated his aspiration to become a “professional school shooter.”

Yet on the morning of the massacre, the family that took the 19-year-old into their home didn’t notice anything terribly strange about the young man’s behavior, the family’s attorney said Thursday.

Nikolas Cruz stands charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

The only thing abnormal was that he didn’t get up for his adult GED class. Normally, the father would take him to class on the way to work, but when they tried to wake Cruz up Wednesday, he said something like, “It’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day,” according to the lawyer.

“They just blew it off,” attorney Jim Lewis said. “This is some 19-year-old that didn’t want to get up and go to school that day, and (they) left it at that.”

The family took Cruz in last year after his adoptive mother died. Cruz was depressed, Lewis said. The family’s son knew Cruz, so they opened their home, got him into a GED class and helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree, the lawyer said.

“He seemed to be doing better,” Lewis said.

FBI acknowledges receiving shooting warning 00:39

Prior to the mass shooting that left 17 adults and children dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cruz had exchanged texts with the son, who was a student there.

Lewis characterized the texts as, “How you doing? What’s going on? Yo, you coming over later?” That kind of stuff. Nothing to indicate anything bad was going to happen.”

Cruz had a gun. The family knew that, but they had established rules. He had to keep it in a lockbox in his room. Cruz had the key to the lockbox, the attorney said.

“This family did what they thought was right, which was take in a troubled kid and try to help him, and that doesn’t mean he can’t bring his stuff into their house. They had it locked up and believed that 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,” Lewis said.

Writing on the wall?

Attorney: Family knew about guns 02:19

While the family didn’t see any signs that Cruz might perpetrate the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012, it appears others saw worrying indicators.

Lewis, of course, mentioned Cruz suffered from depression. Cruz had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. A former classmate said Cruz had shown him guns, and other students say they worried he was violent.

His social media posts also paint what Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel called a “very, very disturbing” picture, and the FBI says it received at least two threat reports about Cruz, according to a law enforcement official.

Israel also alluded to Cruz’s mental fitness during a news conference, while Broward County Mayor Beam Furr said the teen “had been dealing with mental health issues.”

“He had been undergoing some treatment. We can’t go into detail on that,” Furr said. “I don’t know if he was exactly on law enforcement’s radar, but it wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him. He had not been back to the clinic for over a year, so there’s been a time where he was receiving treatment and then stopped.”

Attorney shares gunman’s text before shooting 00:55

Lewis said Cruz was a loner and “a little quirky,” and the family hosting him knew there had been some disciplinary problems and fights, but Cruz had never expressed any discontent toward his former teachers or classmates.

“He was a smaller kid and (there’s) some indication there might have been some bullying going on, but again, he’d been away from the school for over a year and had never shared with them any contempt for the school or anybody here — no anger, just a lot of depression and stuff going on around the loss of this mother,” the lawyer said.

Lewis continued, “They didn’t see a mentally ill person or they never would’ve let him live under their (roof). … They did not see any danger. They didn’t see any kind of predilection that this was going to happen and they’re horrified just like everyone else.”

Cruz’s digital footprint

Israel said Cruz’s digital profile contains troubling content that included a variety of gun- and violence-related posts on social media.

A user going by the name of Nikolas Cruz also included slurs against blacks and Muslims in his posts. The Anti-Defamation League reported Thursday that it had spoken with Jordan Jereb, believed to the be the leader of a white supremacist group called the Republic of Florida.

Jereb told the ADL, according to its report, that Cruz “had participated in one or more ROF training exercises in the Tallahassee area, carpooling with other ROF members from south Florida.” Jereb added that the group had not ordered Cruz to commit an act like the school shooting, the report said.

Cruz’s disturbing behavior also included several threatening comments under videos on YouTube and other sites. They include:

“I whana shoot people with my AR-15”

“I wanna die Fighting killing s**t ton of people”

“I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people.”

In September, a YouTube user going by Nikolas Cruz posted a comment to a vlogger’s YouTube page, saying, “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” A law enforcement official confirms the FBI received a report about the post, one of two threat reports the agency received about Cruz.

Suspect posted photos of weapons to Instagram 01:22

On his Instagram page, Cruz posted a photo of a shotgun. In another photo he brandishes what appears to be a BB gun. In other pictures, he is covering his face with a kerchief and brandishing long knives.

Police say Cruz was armed with multiple magazines and at least one AR-15 style rifle. The suspected shooter bought the firearm in the past year and had passed the background check to make the purchase, according to a US official briefed on the investigation.

His host family knew nothing of his social media activity, Lewis said.

“They’re not social media people. They’re parents. They’re just not that kind of folks. And he’s an adult, and they tried to help him. But did they check up on him and follow him every minute of every day? They didn’t, because they didn’t see any of the signs that would indicate that there was anything really amiss, that he was capable of something violent,” he said.

His school life

Cruz was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary reasons, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said without elaborating. The teen was transferred to another school in the county because of “issues that arose,” Runcie said.

Cruz usually kept to himself but “once given the opportunity, he liked to talk,” said Brandon Minoff, a senior who was assigned to a group project with Cruz during sophomore year.

“He always just seemed very quiet and strange,” Minoff said.

Student: Shooting suspect always seemed quiet 00:48

Minoff initially tried to avoid Cruz, he said, “but when I got assigned to work with him, he started talking to me.”

“He told me how he got kicked out of two private schools. He was held back twice. He had aspirations to join the military. He enjoyed hunting,” the high school senior said.

Cruz appears to have been involved in the high school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, as his name is listed under several awards in 2016, including academic achievement for maintaining an A grade in JROTC and Bs in other subjects.

He also was awarded for presenting an outstanding appearance and outstanding conduct throughout school.

His family life

Cruz was adopted by Lynda Cruz, said Kathie Blaine, her cousin. She died November 1 after battling the flu and pneumonia, Blaine said. Cruz’s father had died of a heart attack more than a decade prior.

Blaine said she last saw Lynda Cruz about 20 years ago and had never met Nikolas Cruz.

“I don’t understand it anymore than anyone else does. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe any of these school shootings,” she said.

His classmate’s family took him in about a week after Thanksgiving, Lewis said.

“They had a room. He really had no other options and they brought him in,” he said.

As Cruz sat in Broward County Jail without bond on Thursday, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and awaiting his first court appearance, the family continued cooperating with police, the attorney said.

“Their home is being turned inside out,” Lewis said. “We were down there late talking to them, answering all the police questions, showing them phones. They opened their house up. … This family and the son have cooperated with law enforcement every which way they can.”

“They care about this kid. They took him into the home,” the attorney said, “but, as the mother told me, if they had any inkling … that this kid was capable of something like this, they never would’ve brought him into their home.”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Alisyn Camerota, Evan Perez, Chris Boyette, Amanda Jackson, Jamiel Lynch, Nicole Williams and Don Lemon contributed to this report.

Multiple deaths in Florida school shooting 01:26

Cruz was adopted by Lynda Cruz, said Kathie Blaine, her cousin. She died November 1 after battling the flu and pneumonia, Blaine said. Cruz’s father had died of a heart attack more than a decade prior.

Blaine said she last saw Lynda Cruz about 20 years ago and had never met Nikolas Cruz.

“I don’t understand it anymore than anyone else does. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe any of these school shootings,” she said.

His classmate’s family took him in about a week after Thanksgiving, Lewis said.

“They had a room. He really had no other options and they brought him in,” he said.

Football coach died shielding students 01:29

As Cruz sat in Broward County Jail without bond on Thursday, charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and awaiting his first court appearance, the family continued cooperating with police, the attorney said.

“Their home is being turned inside out,” Lewis said. “We were down there late talking to them, answering all the police questions, showing them phones. They opened their house up. … This family and the son have cooperated with law enforcement every which way they can.”

“They care about this kid. They took him into the home,” the attorney said, “but, as the mother told me, if they had any inkling … that this kid was capable of something like this, they never would’ve brought him into their home.”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Alisyn Camerota, Evan Perez, Chris Boyette, Amanda Jackson, Jamiel Lynch, Nicole Williams and Don Lemon contributed to this report.