Social Services Investigated Florida Shooter, Knew He Wanted to Buy a Gun in 2016

by | February 20, 2018

By Paula McMahon, Stephen Hobbs and Megan O'Matz

Nikolas Cruz cut his arms on Snapchat and said he wanted to buy a gun in September 2016, more than a year before he was accused of killing 17 people in a school in Parkland, Florida, records obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel show.

The incident on the digital social network prompted an investigation by sheriff's deputies and adult welfare investigators from the Department of Children & Family Services.

The documents provide further evidence that Cruz was a troubled teen who repeatedly went without help before he stalked the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 rifle on Wednesday.

In another stunning example, the FBI acknowledged Friday that it ignored a tip last month that Cruz was at risk of committing a school shooting.

A person close to Cruz contacted an FBI national tipline on Jan. 5 with concerns about the young man's "gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting," the agency said in a news release.

The information should have been sent to the FBI Miami Field Office but was never forwarded, officials said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered an investigation of how the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI handled the matter.


DCF investigation

The DCF investigation came four days after Cruz's 18th birthday, meaning he could legally purchase a rifle.

"Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr. Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for," the DCF report reads.

Investigators concluded there were "some implications" for Cruz's safety but determined he was receiving adequate support from his school and outpatient care from Henderson Mental Health in Broward County.

About five months later, he bought the AR-15.

Cruz came under DCF's supervision and care because he was classified as a vulnerable adult due to mental illness.

"[Cruz's] final level of risk is low as [he] resides with his mother, attends school and receives counseling through Henderson," the DCF investigator wrote.

Cruz's lawyers said the report is the clearest evidence yet that the system failed not only their client but also the murder victims, their families and the wider community.

"All of this could have been prevented," said Melisa McNeill, the Broward assistant public defender who is leading the defense. "It makes me sick to my stomach because there are 17 people, including numerous children, who are dead and several others who are injured."

The attorneys said the Snapchat incident alerted at least four local agencies -- DCF, the Broward Sheriff's Office, the Broward school district and Henderson Behavioral Health, one of the largest mental health providers in the county -- that Cruz was in crisis and posed a potential danger to himself and others.

"Every single red flag was being thrown up by this kid, four days after his 18th birthday, and nothing was done to help him," said Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes. "This community has been devastated. The system didn't only fail him, it failed the entire community."

A mobile crisis unit from Henderson had been called out at some time in the past to figure out whether Cruz needed to be committed for psychiatric treatment under the Baker Act, the DCF report said. No date for that visit was provided and he was not committed.

His mother, Lynda Cruz, told investigators that her son had been diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was being treated for depression, had a behavioral disorder and had been taking medication for the ADHD, the report said. Investigators wrote that they did not know whether he was still taking the medication.

Cruz's mother told investigators his behavior was linked to "a breakup with a girl who was cheating on [him]." She and the girl's mom had told the teens they "had to end the relationship because it was unhealthy for everyone."

Cruz began cutting himself after his relationship broke up, his mother said.

(c)2018 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)