Nikolas Cruz, 19, who is accused of killing 17 people on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, appears to have been obsessed with a girl who attended the school. Cruz was formally charged on Thursday with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Later in the day, a Broward County Sheriff’s Office report indicated that Cruz confessed to carrying out the massacre and hiding extra ammunition in his backpack, according to The Associated Press. Law enforcement sources late Thursday that Cruz has no ties to white supremacist militia, as several reports earlier in the day suggested, including the leader of the group, who claimed Cruz is a member. And efforts to confirms the ties to a white supremacy group have come up empty.
Cruz made a brief court appearance on Thursday, where he appeared wearing handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit. Judge Kim Theresa Mollica ordered Cruz to be held without bond, a ruling that Cruz’s public defender, Melisa McNeill, did not contest. McNeill at times was seen putting her arm around Cruz in court, video of the hearing showed.
After the hearing, McNeill described Cruz as a “broken human being,” and that’s precisely the portrait that emerged of him through the impressions shared by those who knew or were acquainted with him.
According to one of Cruz’s former teachers, multiple students had told him that Cruz was stalking a girl at Stoneman Douglas, The New York Times reported. Another student at the school, Victoria Olvera, told The Associated Press that Cruz was abusive to his ex-girlfriend while he was a student at Stoneman Douglas, and that he had been expelled from the school after he got into a fight with her new boyfriend.
Cruz was orphaned in November after his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died of pneumonia. He and his brother Zachary reportedly moved in with family friends around Thanksgiving. The family’s lawyer, Jim Lewis, said the family had known Cruz owned a AR-15, which he had purchased legally in February 2017, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation. Lewis said that during the three months Cruz lived with the family, he had been quiet and respectful if “mildly troubled” over the loss of his mother.
Amanda Samaroo, the mother of a girl who attended the school, said that her daughter’s friends had told her “he was known to always be mentally ill and would kill animals.” Screen shots of an Instagram page that purportedly belonged to Cruz showed him posing with guns and ammunition for his AR-15 — another photo appeared to show a frog that he had killed. According to BuzzFeed News, the FBI was warned in September about an ominous comment a Nikolas Cruz left on a YouTube video. “I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” the comment read.
Meanwhile, more disturbing details emerged about Cruz. According to The Associated Press, the leader of a white nationalist militia claims Cruz is a member of his group and has taken part in paramilitary trainings the group has held, but investigators refuted that report.
Jordan Jereb heads up the group Republic of Florida, or ROF, the Anti-Defamation League reports, and Jereb told the AP that ROF holds “spontaneous random demonstrations” and is devoted to a making America a white ethno-state. Jereb said he isn’t personally acquainted with Cruz and that Cruz was not acting on the group’s behalf when the deadly shooting occurred. The Daily Beast reported that Cruz has a penchant for right-wing politics. Multiple students told the Beast they’d seen Cruz wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat — a notable piece of campaign paraphernalia made prominent by Donald Trump during his run for the White House — and an Instagram account associated with Cruz shows an apparent photo of him sporting the red headwear. Instagram appears to have confirmed the authenticity of the photo, Guardian reporter Jon Swaine noted in a post on Twitter.
Instagram implicitly confirming that an account with a MAGA Trump hat avatar belonged to gunman Nikolas Cruz. Asked why the account was removed, spokesperson says: pic.twitter.com/LdXb73iCj8
— Jon Swaine (@jonswaine) February 15, 2018
On Thursday, President Trump addressed the nation about the shooting, denouncing Cruz and saying he “was mentally disturbed,” but the president said nothing about lawmakers addressing federal gun laws, as many are calling for him to do. Trump also spoke directly to American teens, saying, “I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer or a faith leader. Answer hate with love, answer cruelty with kindness.
As others have pointed out, Jereb, the white supremacist leader, said Cruz had “trouble with a girl” and that Cruz having allegedly timed the attack to occur on Valentine’s Day was no coincidence.