The teenager accused of killing 17 people in a mass shooting at a Florida high school last week was reported to the Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) a year and half before the deadly gun massacre.
The Miami Herald obtained records showing that someone placed a call to the DCF hotline in September 2016, reporting that Nikolas Cruz had posted images of himself cutting his arms on Snapchat, where he also spoke of buying a gun.
“Mr. Cruz was on Snapchat cutting both of his arms,” the unidentified person reported to the hotline.
“Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr. Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun.”
The DCF report initially described Cruz as the “alleged victim” of neglect by his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, who died this past November, but a subsequent investigation found that Cruz was not being mistreated or neglected by his then-68-year-old mother. Still, other aspects of the investigation strongly indicated that Cruz needed more help than he was getting.
Cruz was being treated at the time by a mental health counselor at Henderson Mental Health, and appears to have been on the radar of school officials. But despite what look like clear warning signs in hindsight, a Henderson counselor who met with Cruz after the DCF call reportedly determined that he was “stable enough not to be hospitalized” and “was not at risk to harm himself or others,” according to the report.
The Miami Herald and an ABC Action News report indicate that Cruz met with multiple people from his school, Henderson and law enforcement as part of the DCF investigation, but the Miami Herald story does not specify who these people were and what role they played. One investigator who examined Cruz on the same day he was reported to be cutting himself said that they did not see any evidence of self-harm on Cruz’s arms “because he was wearing long sleeves.” The investigator does not appear to have asked Cruz to roll up his sleeves to examine his arms.
The Miami Herald obtained disciplinary reports showing that Cruz had numerous behavioral problems at Westglades Middle School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the shooting massacre, before he was transferred out. Cruz was repeatedly cited for disruptive and unruly behavior, including using profanity in class and towards teachers.
Cruz reportedly went through a breakup not long before the Snapchat posts that prompted a call to DCF. Around the same time, Cruz reportedly drew a Nazi symbol and wrote the racial slur n***** on his backpack. But his mother reportedly told investigators that her son wasn’t a racist and likely did not know what the Nazi symbol or the slur stood for.
Gordon Weekes, the Broward Public Defender’s Office’s chief assistant, criticized what he said were multiple missed opportunities to intervene more meaningfully.
“Every single bell had been rung with this child and nothing had been done,” Weekes told the Miami Herald.
“There were instances of cutting, he was exhibiting threats to himself, and potential threats to others, there were indications he was depressed and wanted to buy a gun — and yet nobody did anything,” Weekes continued.
“He fell through the cracks.”
[Feature image: Associated Press]