By MATTHEW HAAG and SERGE F. KOVALESKI
The man suspected of opening fire inside a Florida high school Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, was a former student who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons, the authorities said.
Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County, Florida, said that the man, Nikolas Cruz, 19, previously attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland but was expelled after getting into trouble. He was enrolled at another Broward County school, officials said.
In the hours after the shooting, people who knew Cruz described him as a “troubled kid” who enjoyed showing off his firearms and bragging about killing animals, and whose mother would resort to calling the police to have them come to their home to try to talk some sense into him. At a school with about 3,000 students, Cruz stayed to himself and had few friends but struck fear in some students with erratic behavior and an affinity for violence.
“He always had guns on him,” a student at the school, who did not give his name, told WFOR-TV. “The crazy stuff that he did was not right for school, and he got kicked out of school multiple times for that kind of stuff.”
Jim Gard, a math teacher at Stoneman Douglas, said in an interview that Cruz was a student in his class during the first semester of the 2016-17 school year. In the class, he was quiet and not disruptive, Gard said.
But he recalled that school administrators became concerned last year about Cruz’s behavior and alerted the faculty. “We received emails about him from the administration,” Gard said in an interview, adding that he did not recall the specific issues.
After the shooting Wednesday, Gard said that several students told him that Cruz was taken with a girl at Stoneman Douglas “to the point of stalking her.”
In the interview with the Miami news station, the student said Cruz was a junior at Stoneman Douglas when he was expelled last year. He said that students would joke that if anyone were to open fire inside the school, it would be Cruz. Because of that, students feared him and mostly stayed away from him, the student said.
“A lot of people were saying that it would be him,” the student told WFOR-TV. “They would say he would be the one to shoot up the school. Everyone predicted it.”
Brandon Minoff, a student at Stoneman Douglas, said in an interview with CNN that a teacher assigned him to work with Cruz on a group project two years ago. Cruz was quiet in class but opened up during their project, Minoff said, telling him that he had been kicked out of two private schools, had been held back twice and aspired to join the military.
“He was always to himself and never tried to associate himself with anyone,” Minoff said. “As far as I know, he didn’t have any friends.”
School officials declined to say why Cruz no longer attended Stoneman Douglas. But Amanda Samaroo, whose daughter, Elizabeth, attended the school while he was a student there, said he had been expelled for bringing knives on campus. “Her friends have said he was known to always be mentally ill and would kill animals,” Samaroo said.
Helen Pasciolla, who is retired, lives on an elegant street in the Pine Tree Estates development in Parkland, three houses down and across from where the Cruz family resided until about a year ago. Pasciolla said that Cruz told her that the family had to move out of their one-story beige house and sell it because they could no longer afford it.
She said that Cruz has a brother, Zachary, and that both boys were adopted. Their adoptive father died some years ago, she added.
Pasciolla said that the boys’ mother, Lynda Cruz, had regular problems with their behavior. On occasion, she said, the mother would resort to calling the police to have them come over to try to talk some sense into her sons.
“I think she wanted to scare them a little bit,” Pasciolla said. “Nikolas has behavioral problems, I think, but I never thought he would be violent.”
When she saw his picture on TV on Wednesday after the shooting, Pasciolla said that she thought to herself, “Oh, my God, that’s the kid who lived down the street.”
Israel said that the authorities did not yet know the motive for the killing but were learning more about Cruz through his social media pages, which he described as “very, very concerning.”
Screen shots of an Instagram page said to belong to Cruz show many photos of a man holding firearms and ammunition used in a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. One photo shows several guns, including rifles with scopes, laying on a bed. Another appears to show a frog that had been killed.
After Cruz left Stoneman Douglas, he took a job at a Dollar Tree store about a mile and a half from the school. A person who answered the phone at the store Wednesday evening said that Cruz worked as a cashier and was well liked by his colleagues.
“He was a great guy,” the person said.
He added that he last saw Cruz about a year ago before he transferred to another Dollar Tree store closer to his home.
Another student at Stoneman Douglas, Ocean Parodie, told The Daily Beast that he visited the store after Cruz was expelled to check on him. “He said he was expelled and was happy that he was thrown out,” Parodie said. “I felt bad for him.”