PARKLAND — Nikolas Cruz, the expelled student charged with 17 killings at his former school in Parkland, had undergone mental-health treatment and may have been reported to the FBI for allegedly posting an online comment saying he wanted "to be a professional school shooter."
Thursday morning, the FBI special agent in charge for South Florida told reporters that agents — after "reviews and checks" — could not identify the user behind the YouTube comment.
"We were unable to identify the person who made the comment," said Rob Lasky said at a press conference, also saying that no other information was included with that comment which would "indicate a time, location, or the true identity of the person who made the comment."
The comment, posted in September on a YouTube page of a Mississippi bail bondsman, was made by someone with the user name "nikolas cruz."
Despite his alarming behavior over the years, Cruz was able to purchase a .223-caliber rifle from a Broward gun shop in February 2017 after instantly clearing an FBI background check, according to the Miami Herald, citing an unnamed law-enforcement source. He had no criminal history.
Ironically, Cruz could not have bought a handgun such as 9mm Glock pistol because the purchaser has to be at least 21 years old under U.S. law. Yet, anyone who is at least 18 and clears a criminal background check can legally buy a rifle or shotgun in the United States.
More disturbing details emerged Thursday about the life of the alleged shooter, who was known by classmates as a quiet loner with an obsession with weapons and outbursts in the classroom. Cruz, 19, was booked into a Broward County jail early Thursday to face 17 counts of first-degree murder.
He is expected to make his first appearance in Broward circuit court at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Cruz had a tortured history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, where he had been suspended for fights and having ammunition in his backpack. He was later expelled for "disciplinary reasons," and was re-enrolled at a Broward school for at-risk youths.
He lived in Parkland with his brother and his adopted mother, who died late last year. This year, Cruz had moved in with a friend in Broward County — the family asked him to keep the AR-15 locked in a cabinet. However, Cruz did not go to school Wednesday morning, delivering a cryptic remark to a friend.
"He said, 'It's Valentine's Day and I don't go to school on Valentine's Day,'" said attorney Jim Lewis, who is representing the friend.
Also in the past, Cruz had received mental-health treatment but stopped going to a clinic, Broward Mayor Beam Furr told CNN and NPR.
"We missed the signs," said Furr, a former teacher. "We should have seen some of the signs."
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His social-media posts also showed his love of weaponry. In the images, he sported dark bandanas over his face and beanies and baseball caps on his head. In one post, he wielded knives between his fingers as though they were claws. In another, he showed off a small black handgun.
Speaking on WIOD-610 AM radio Thursday morning, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said Cruz had posted troubling photos and videos on social media.
"We saw a pic yesterday where he took a chameleon and he splattered the chameleon," Israel said. "Things like this, that's not normal behavior."
There were warning signs across the country.
Cruz appeared to have left an ominous comment on a Mississippi man's YouTube channel in September.
Ben Bennight, a Gulfport bail bondsman who goes by "Ben the Bondsman" on YouTube, said in a video posted Wednesday night that he spoke to FBI agents in September about a comment left on one of his videos by someone with the username "nikolas cruz."
"Im going to be a professional school shooter," the commenter wrote.
In the video, Bennight says he immediately reported the comment to YouTube and to the local FBI field office. The next day, agents were in his business asking about the comment.
"I knew that I couldn't just ignore that," he said on the video he posted.
On Wednesday, FBI agents in Mississippi and South Florida contacted Bennight again in the hours after the shooting to ask questions about the disturbing comment.
"I wish that the information could have prevented this from happening," he said near the end of the video. "But it was a generic comment, and you know, people say things. Keyboard commandos type things all the time that they don't mean."
Contact Jay Weater firstname.lastname@example.org, Joey Flechas at email@example.com and David Ovalle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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