PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) – The suspect in a deadly rampage at a Florida high school is a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media before the shooting spree that killed at least 17 people, according to a law enforcement official and former schoolmates.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Cruz had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons.”
“I don’t know the specifics,” the sheriff said.
However, Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was expelled last school year after a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. She said Cruz had been abusive to his girlfriend.
School officials said Cruz was attending another school in Broward County after his expulsion.
Cruz’s mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia on Nov. 1 neighbors, friends and family members said, according to 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, family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island, said.
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 keep it locked up in a cabinet. He did have the key, however.
Jim Lewis said the family is devastated and didn’t see this coming. They are cooperating with authorities, he said.
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr said during an interview with CNN that the shooter was getting treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but that he hadn’t been back to the clinic for more than a year.
“It wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him,” Furr said.
“We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren’t connected … Most teachers try to steer them toward some kind of connections. … In this case, we didn’t find a way to connect with this kid,” Furr said.
Israel said investigators were dissecting the suspect’s social media posts.
“And some of the things that have come to mind are very, very disturbing,” he added without elaborating.
Daniel Huerfano, a student who fled Wednesday’s attack, said he recognized Cruz from an Instagram photo in which Cruz posed with a gun in front of his face. Huerfano recalled Cruz as a shy student and remembered seeing him walking around with his lunch bag.
“He was that weird kid that you see … like a loner,” he added.
Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior, said he used to be close friends with Cruz but hadn’t seen him in more than a year following his expulsion from school.
“He started progressively getting a little more weird,” Mutchler said.
Mutchler recalled Cruz posting on Instagram about killing animals and said he had talked about doing target practice in his backyard with a pellet gun.
“He started going after one of my friends, threatening her, and I cut him off from there,” Mutchler said.
“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Mutchler said.
Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he did not know of any threats posed by Cruz to the school.
“Typically you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there,” Runcie said. “I would be speculating at this point if there were, but we didn’t have any warnings. There weren’t any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made.”
However, a teacher told The Miami Herald that Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat to other students. Jim Gard, a math teacher who said Cruz had been in his class last year, said he believes the school had sent out an email warning teachers that Cruz shouldn’t be allowed on campus with a backpack.
“There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard said.