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Everything we know about Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz

“My friends used to joke that he looked like a stereotypical school shooter, and unfortunately he ended up being that.”

by Alexa Liautaud and David Gilbert
Feb 15 2018, 11:03am

Associated Press

As Angelina Lazo fled in terror from her school, trying to calm classmates also running from the horrific shooting in South Florida Wednesday, she realized something.

She knew the suspected gunman.

Nikolas de Jesus Cruz, the alleged shooter responsible for the deaths of at least 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the deadliest school rampage since Sandy Hook, had been in her sophomore biology class.

“I told my friends, ‘This is who he is, this is what he looks like,’” Lazo said. “He is so distinctive.”

While some of his teachers described Cruz as a student with a mild if unremarkable demeanor, several of his classmates who spoke to VICE News and other media outlets painted a much darker portrait.

Read more: The FBI knew Cruz wanted to be a school shooter since a 2017 YouTube comment was flagged

“My friends used to joke that he looked like a stereotypical school shooter, and unfortunately he ended up being that,” Lazo said.

Cruz was taken from the Broward sheriff’s headquarters Thursday to the county jail in Fort Lauderdale, where he was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Here’s everything we know about the suspect:

Family

Cruz and his biological brother Zachary were adopted, however, both their adoptive parents died.

Roger and Lynda Cruz, originally from Long Island, New York, adopted the brothers after they moved to Parkland. Roger died a number of years ago from a heart attack, and Lynda died on Nov. 1 last year from pneumonia, according to the local paper, the Sun Sentinel.

The boys were left in the care of a family friend following their mother’s death.

READ: Shooting suspect had been expelled for “disciplinary reasons”

According to neighbors, Lynda struggled in recent years to control her sons and often resorted to calling the police to try to talk some sense into her sons.

“I think she wanted to scare them a little bit,” Helen Pasciolla, who lived down the block from them, said. “Nikolas has behavioral problems, I think, but I never thought he would be violent.”

The family recently moved out of their one-story beige house and put it on the market, because they could no longer afford it, one former neighbor said.

Expelled

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters that Cruz had been expelled for "disciplinary reasons."

While Israel said he did not know the details behind the suspension, there have been several accounts of why Cruz was expelled.

AP reports that Cruz was expelled last school year after a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. According to Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, the suspect had been abusive to his former girlfriend.

A screen grab from local TV station of Nikolas Cruz being walked into jail by Broward County officers on Thursday. (WFSB CHANNEL 3)

However, Amanda Samaroo, the mother of a student at the school, said Cruz was suspended for bringing knives on campus. “Her friends have said he was known to always be mentally ill and would kill animals,” Samaroo said.

One classmate told the Miami Herald that Cruz had been kicked out for packing bullets in his backpack.

According to the unnamed student speaking to WFOR-TV, Cruz had been kicked out of school more than once. “He always had guns on him,” the student, who did not give his name, told WFOR-TV. “The crazy stuff that he did was not right for school, and he got kicked out of school multiple times for that kind of stuff.”

Warning signs

Despite having no previous arrests, there appeared to be a number of warning signs that Cruz was capable of carrying out such an act.

Among the most obvious of these were his social media posts, particularly two separate Instagram accounts, both of which have now been taken offline.

Sheriff Israel described Cruz’s social media output as “very, very disturbing.”

The photos include a man holding firearms and ammunition used in a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. Another photo shows several guns, including rifles with scopes, laying on a bed. Another appears to show a frog that had been killed.

One photo showed a shotgun, a Maverick 88 slug, with a caption in which Cruz was asking for guidance for how to buy one “for hunting.”

One photo showed him wielding knives between his fingers as though they were claws. In another, he showed off a small black handgun.

Cruz also posted threatening comments under YouTube videos in his own name, including: “I whana shoot people with my AR-15”, “I wanna die Fighting killing shit ton of people” and “I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people.”

A number of students claimed Cruz was singled out as a potential school shooter one day. “A lot of people were saying that it would be him,” an unnamed student told local television station WFOR-TV. “They would say he would be the one to shoot up the school. Everyone predicted it.”

Guns

“All he would talk about is guns, knives, and hunting,” Joshua Charo, a former classmate at the high school told the Miami Herald. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.

Chad Williams, 18, told Reuters that Cruz was “crazy about guns” and would regularly set off the fire alarm at school before he was eventually expelled.

People are brought out of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting at the school that reportedly killed and injured multiple people on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Cruz bought the AR-15 rifle used in the attack in the past year and had passed the background check to make the purchase, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation, speaking to CNN.

The family he was staying with since his mother died said Cruz already owned it before he moved in. “The family made him keep it in a locked gun cabinet in the house but he had a key,” family lawyer Jim Lewis said.

Police said Cruz took part in the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program. Neither the U.S. Army nor the ROTC office immediately returned VICE News’ request for comment.

School life

Multiple accounts of Cruz’s behavior and actions while at Marjory Stoneman Douglas paint a picture of an isolated teenager, who had few friends and rarely interacted with his fellow students.

“He was definitely not accepted at our school socially,” 17-year-old Ocean Parodie told the Daily Beast. “People saw him as someone who was different than the normal people at our school.”

One teacher at the school said administrators had became concerned last year about Cruz’s behavior and alerted the faculty. “We received emails about him from the administration,” Jim Gard, a math teacher, told the New York Times, adding that he did not recall the specific issues.

However, the teacher did add that several students had told him Cruz was taken with a girl at Stoneman Douglas High School “to the point of stalking her.”

Gard also spoke to the Miami Herald, telling the paper that the faculty was told last year that Cruz “wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him. There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

Cruz rarely spoke to any of his fellow students, preferring to keep to himself, but he did tell one former classmate, who had been assigned to work with Cruz on a project, that he had been kicked out of two private schools, had been held back twice and aspired to join the military.

“He was always to himself and never tried to associate himself with anyone,” Brandon Minoff told CNN. “As far as I know, he didn’t have any friends.”

Cover image: This photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz. Authorities say Cruz, a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, killing more than a dozen people and injuring several. (Broward County Jail via AP)