Sheriff: Massacre suspect’s behavior was a ‘roller-coaster’
August 9, 2018
SUNRISE — The sheriff leading the state commission investigating the Florida school massacre said Wednesday the suspect’s behavior before the shooting was a “roller-coaster,” where he would have stretches of good conduct before it deteriorated.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission that Nikolas Cruz’s fluctuating behavior through the years made it difficult for school officials to determine how he should be handled. Cruz, a 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student, is charged with killing 17 people there Feb. 14.
“It was really a roller-coaster with Cruz really from birth,” Gualtieri said. A report released last week by the Broward County school district said he began showing behavioral issues that got him kicked out of pre-kindergarten. He spent his school years shuttling between regular campuses and those for children with emotional and behavioral problems. “He had some really bad low times but at times he was without behavioral issues,” Gualtieri said.
But Gualtieri said there were times in middle school and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that Cruz’s behavior “dive-bombed,” and he required an escort to monitor him. He didn’t go into details, but it has been previously reported that Cruz got into fights, committed vandalism, cursed teachers and drew a swastika on his backpack. Administrators conducted a threat assessment of him in 2016, about five months before he was kicked out of the school.
Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said that if Cruz required an escort, he had “forfeited” his right to attend a regular school. Ashley was told that would have violated Cruz’s rights under federal disability law to attend the school with the “least-restrictive” environment he could handle. The 14 appointed members and five ex-officio members will learn more about Cruz’s educational, mental health and medical history during a closed session Thursday as they conclude their monthly two-day meeting. The commission must file a report with its findings of what led to the shooting and recommendations for system improvements by Jan. 1.
Separately, prosecutors released hours of video interrogation of Cruz by Broward Sheriff’s Detective John Curcio shortly after the shooting. It contains the same material as a transcript released Monday, both of which were edited to remove what authorities say was Cruz’s direct confession to the crime.
The video shows Cruz slouching in a chair, wearing hospital clothes and speaking so softly at the beginning that Curcio has to repeatedly urge him to talk louder. At one point, with the police out of the room, the video shows Cruz take two fingers, put them to his left temple and pretend to pull a trigger. He gave a little shake after doing this.
Later, he is seen punching himself hard in the face with both hands and occasionally scratching at his right arm with a small object he picked up off the floor.
Much of the interrogation focused on a demonic voice Cruz claims he has heard inside his head for years that urges him to commit violent acts. When asked what the voice usually said, Cruz answered, “Burn. Kill. Destroy.” He also said the voice told him to cut himself.
At another point with Curcio out of the room, Cruz mutters, “Kill me,” and then, later, “I want to die.”
Also Wednesday, Guy Grace, the security head for the Littleton, Colorado, school district, presented the commission with suggestions for improving safety at Florida’s schools. He said his district boosted security after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that left 13 dead plus the two student attackers. He said measures can range from high-tech solutions such as camera systems that can alert monitors to potential problems to simply making doors easier to lock. Stoneman Douglas teachers complained after the shooting that their classrooms couldn’t be locked from the inside — they had to go into the hallway with a key.
Grace said his district has also issued devices to all staff members allowing them to initiate a lockdown at their schools.
Commission members include law enforcement and educational officials, mental health professionals, a legislator and two parents of students who died in the attack.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly attributed Ashley’s remarks to Florida Health Care Secretary Justin Senior.
Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Fort Lauderdale and Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this story.