Nikolas Cruz, an orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and an AR-15 rifle, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after Wednesday’s deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.
Just before the shooting broke out, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School thought they were having a fire drill. Cruz is reported to have set off the alarm deliberately, so that students would emerge from classrooms.
Who is Cruz, and what led him to this point?
Authorities offered no immediate details about his possible motive, except to say that he had been kicked out of the high school, which has about 3,000 students.
Students who knew him described a volatile teenager whose strange behaviour had caused others to end friendships with him. His weapons-themed social media postings — which authorities are now combing over — had drawn particular attention.
One student told local WFOR-TV that students had even predicted Cruz could be a likely candidate to launch an attack on his one-time schoolmates.
“A lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” the student said. “A lot of kids threw jokes around saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. It turns out that everyone predicted it. That’s crazy.”
Cruz’s mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia on Nov. 1, neighbours, friends and family members told the Sun Sentinel.
Cruz and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Nikolas and his biological brother, Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island in New York to Broward County.
The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, said family member Barbara Kumbatovich of Long Island.
Unhappy there, Nikolas Cruz asked to move in with a friend’s family in northwest Broward. The family agreed and Cruz moved in around Thanksgiving.
According to the family’s lawyer, who did not identify them, they knew that Cruz owned the AR-15 but made him lock it lin a cabinet. He did have the key, however.
CNN reported that he had passed a background check to obtain the AR-15, which he had gotten hold of within the past year.
As for Cruz’s behaviour around the school before his expulsion, Matthew Walker, 17, told ABC News that Cruz was a gun and knife enthusiast.
“Everything he posts (on social media) is about weapons. It’s sick,” he said.
Ocean Parodie, 17, told The Daily Beast the shooter had a confrontational personality.
“I knew him to be passive aggressive but not violent. He was rude to people,” Parodie said. “He had an act up like he was tough. He never got into, like, physical fights with anyone, but he did get into verbal arguments. I just thought he dropped out of school, I didn’t think he would do anything. He always kept a low profile.”
“He was definitely not accepted at our school socially. People saw him as someone who was different than the normal people at our school,” Parodie added.
Cruz wore “extreme” patriotic shirts that took issue with Islam and even sported a Trump hat at one stage, Parodie said.
Parodie’s sister, Milan, described how Cruz, ”(n)ever seemed depressed or sad. He was always a little crazy is the best way to put it … He was peppy but not in a good way, in a crazy way.
“He tried to look creepy or weird, I think. He tried to talk to one of my girlfriends and he said she was cute, but she was weirded out and he was bothering her.”
Victoria Olvera, 17, told ABC 7 Chicago that Cruz was abusive to a former girlfriend. Cruz’s expulsion from the school had stemmed from Cruz getting into a fight with the girl’s new boyfriend, the student said.
Cruz is understood to have worked at a nearby Dollar Tree store — former co-workers there told ABC that he was loyal, responsible and always in good spirits.
Meanwhile President Trump weighed in on the issue, claiming on Thursday that Cruz likely had mental issues.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour,” he wrote on Twitter. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
After his capture, Cruz was booked into the Broward County Jail early Thursday, still wearing the hospital gown he was given after being treated for laboured breathing following his arrest. He was later questioned overnight before being booked into jail.
Cruz, who is listed at 5-foot-7 and 131 pounds, is being held without bond. Jail records don’t list an attorney for him.
With files from the Associated Press