‘Something was off’ about shooting suspect

The moment 19 year old Nikolas Cruz was taken into custody by Broward County law enforcement Feb 14, 2018. for the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. [WPTV]
The moment 19 year old Nikolas Cruz was taken into custody by Broward County law enforcement Feb 14, 2018. for the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.[WPTV]
Published February 14 2018
Updated February 14 2018

PARKLAND — 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 rampage that killed at least 17 people, according to a law enforcement official and former schoolmates.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said the 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for "disciplinary reasons."

"I don’t know the specifics," the sheriff said.

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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.

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.

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"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.

ABOUT NICKOLAS CRUZ: ‘Something was off’ about shooting suspect

"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.

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Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was well-known to other students.

"I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him," Mutchler said.

"He got suspended a lot of times. He sold knives in his lunchbox. He was expelled. But no one expected him to come back."

He said he used to be close friends with Cruz but hadn’t seen him in more than a year after 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 back yard with a pellet gun.

"He started going after one of my friends, threatening her, and I cut him off from there," 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."

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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.

Other students also described troubling and unsettling behavior by Cruz.

Nicholas Coke, an 18-year-old senior who said he met Cruz in the eighth grade, said "something was off" about him. He said Cruz was adopted and his mother recently died.

"That’s the first time I knew how bad of a kid he was," Coke said. "He was dealt a super rough card."

Mutchler said Cruz was known for "acting weird" and once threatened one of his friends before the expulsion.

But others who said they knew Cruz were surprised to learn that he was identified as the shooter.

"I never thought he’d be capable of doing anything like this," said Drew Fairchild, an 18-year-old senior who took a class with Cruz his freshman year.

Times correspondent Ayana Lage contributed to this report.

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