Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect in Florida’s Wednesday school shooting, was known to be a quiet, quirky outcast who was expelled from multiple schools and may have been involved with the Republic of Florida, a white supremacist group.
On Wednesday, Cruz opened fire inside Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people using a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, marking one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.
“A lot of people were saying that it would be him,” a student told WFOR-TV of Cruz’s reputation at the high school, from which he was expelled last year. “They would say he would be the one to shoot up the school. Everyone predicted it.”
Here, what we know about Cruz and the circumstances that led to Wednesday’s tragic shooting.
Cruz and his younger brother Zachary were adopted by an older couple when Cruz was just a baby.
His adoptive father died more than a decade ago, but his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died of pneumonia this past November. She was 68. Following her death, Cruz lived briefly with a family friend in Palm Beach County, but he asked to live at the home of a friend. His friend and the friend’s parents agreed, and Cruz moved into their mobile home shortly after that.
According to Cruz’s attorney Jim Lewis, the family opened their home to the troubled teen and even encouraged him to take GED classes and get a job, which he did, at a local Dollar Tree store. “He seemed to be doing better,” Lewis told CNN, explaining that Cruz was depressed following his mother’s death. Lynda reportedly called the police on numerous occasion to deal with Cruz’s unruly behavior.
The family he lived with knew he had a gun.
According to Lewis, the family allowed him to bring his gun into their house so long as he kept it in a lockbox. “This family did what they thought was right, which was take in a troubled kid and try to help him,” Lewis told The New York Times. Cruz purchased the firearm legally in the past year after passing a background check.
Cruz was expelled from Douglas High School last year, allegedly for bringing knives to school.
Though school officials declined to say why Cruz was dismissed from the school, aside from citing disciplinary reasons, a woman, whose daughter Elizabeth attended the school with Cruz, told The New York Times that he had been expelled for bringing the weapons onto the campus.
“Her friends have said he was known to always be mentally ill and would kill animals,” Amanda Samaroo told The Times. Another former classmate, Brandon Minoff, told CNN that Cruz opened up to him when the two worked on a group project together during sophomore year. “He told me how he got kicked out of two private schools,” Minoff said. “He was held back twice. He had aspirations to join the military. He enjoyed hunting.”
His online profiles hinted at disturbing thoughts and behaviors.
Cruz’s Instagram page contains some disturbing images, including a photo of a shotgun, one in which he brandishes what appears to be a BB gun, and several of himself brandishing long knives while covering his face with a red, white and blue bandana. A YouTube account believed to be associated with him was also flagged for making troubling comments on various video posts in the past.
The comments include: “I wanna die Fighting killing shit ton of people,” “I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after good people,” and “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” A YouTube user reported the latter comment to law enforcement officials after it appeared on his video last September, and officials confirmed to CNN that the FBI had received a report about the post, which was promptly taken down.
The FBI was aware of Cruz and confirmed that it had responded to his online behavior months ago.
A YouTube user reported a disturbing comment on his video (“I’m going to be a professional school shooter”) made by someone with the username “Nikolas Cruz” to law enforcement officials last September, and officials confirmed to CNN that the FBI had received a report about the post. Ben Bennight told CNN that he took a screenshot of the comment and sent it to what he thought was the FBI tip line, but the email address turned out to be invalid. He later followed up with a phone call and the post was promptly taken down.
Bennight said FBI agents from the Mississippi office paid him a visit following Wednesday’s shooting to follow up on the September report. “I saw the story kind of go across my newsfeed, but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it,” he told CNN Thursday. “But when the FBI said it was the same name, the first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Wow, I hope you were at least watching this guy that I alerted you to months ago.'”
His lawyer and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel hinted that Cruz has been dealing with mental health issues.
Lewis told The Times that the family Cruz had been living with noticed signs of depression, but didn’t think that the problems could escalate into violence. On Wednesday morning, Cruz told the family that he didn’t want to go to his GED class because, “It’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day.” A relative told the Florida Sun Sentinel that Cruz had been diagnosed with autism.
Cruz may have had ties to the Republic of Florida, a white supremacist group.
The Anti-Defamation League also caught wind of Cruz’s ties to the group through a 4chan messaging board, and reached out to the organization. The group seeks to create a “white ethnostate” in Florida, according to its website. Group captain Jordan Jereb told The Daily Beast that though he wasn’t aware of Cruz’s specific beliefs, he knows that Cruz “knew full well he was joining a white separatist paramilitary proto-fascist organization.” Cruz, he said, “seemed like just a normal, disenfranchised, young white man.”
Watch below: Suspected Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz is held without bond for 17 counts of murder.