Florida school shooting suspect’s mom let him buy guns despite counselors’ warnings, officials say
SUNRISE, FL – Mental health counselors told the mother of Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz she shouldn’t let him buy guns, but she ignored their concerns and he began assembling an arsenal before her death last year, officials said Tuesday.
Lynda Cruz was “an enabler” who interfered with efforts to get her son treatment, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, told members.
About a year before the attack, Nikolas Cruz was 18 and living with his mother when he legally bought the AR-15 authorities say was used in the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people. He bought other guns before and after her November death from pneumonia.
“If he wants to have a gun, he could have a gun,” Gualtieri said Lynda Cruz told his counselors. Cruz’s father died when he was young.
Gualtieri told members that school and mental health counselors had at least 140 contacts with Nikolas Cruz over the years trying to get him help, but his mother frequently interfered. He did not go into specifics. Similar complaints were made about the mother of Adam Lanza, who killed 26 at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 after killing her. Nancy Lanza bought guns for her 20-year-old son despite his severe emotional issues.
The commission is scheduled to discuss Cruz’s mental health treatment in a closed session Thursday because those records are protected by federal and state law.
Zachary Cruz, the suspect’s younger brother, told The Miami Herald in May that Nikolas Cruz pointed a rifle at him and their mother in separate incidents, but they didn’t call police either time.
School and government records obtained by The Associated Press and other media shortly after the shooting show Nikolas Cruz was diagnosed as developmentally delayed at age 3 and had disciplinary issues dating to middle school. In February 2014, while in eighth grade, Cruz was transferred to a school for children with emotional and behavioral issues. He stayed until 10th grade, when he was transferred to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
About a year before the attack, Cruz was kicked out of the school after he harassed other students, had outbursts, fought and had numerous other issues.
On Sept. 28, 2016, an investigator from the Florida Department of Children and Families visited Cruz and his mother after he posted video on Snapchat showing him cutting himself. The report showed he had written a racial epithet against African-Americans and a Nazi symbol on his book bag, which his mother had forced him to erase. The investigator said Cruz was suffering from depression and on medication and had told Lynda Cruz he planned to buy a gun, but she couldn’t determine why.
Also, the commission agreed Tuesday that Cruz’s 2013 participation in the Broward County school district’s Promise Program played no part in the massacre. The program has been criticized for leniency and over questions over whether Cruz completed the program, particularly by conservatives.
But Gualtieri, a Republican, called the issue “a red herring.”
“The Promise Program is irrelevant to Nikolas Cruz,” he said. “It never in any way, shape, form would have affected his ability to buy that AR-15 and to buy the shotguns, to buy anything else, to possess.”
Records show Cruz was referred to the program as an eighth grader after he broke a bathroom faucet. Under Promise, students who commit petty vandalism or theft, harassment, fight or other minor crimes or violations are referred to the off-campus program for two-to-10 days. They are assessed, given a course of treatment, attend classes and receive counseling. Records show almost 90 percent of Promise participants never reoffend, Gualtieri said.
Records are inconclusive on whether Cruz attended Promise or skipped the assignment — school officials originally said he was never referred to the program, but later said they found records showing he was. Gualtieri said even if the program didn’t exist and Cruz had been charged criminally, at most he would have been given a sentence of community service.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, an outspoken conservative, agreed that the program played no part in the massacre.
But Judd and other commission members did make several recommendations for improving Promise, including combining school and criminal records so officials can get a full picture of a juvenile’s behavior. Cruz did not have a criminal record before the shooting, but his mother called deputies to their home about 20 times for behavior issues including threats and possible battery. The commission will later discuss how those incidents were handled.
The commission brings together law enforcement, education and mental health officials along with legislators and the parents of student victims. It will prepare a report by Jan. 1.
Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.