Right before school let out on Valentine's Day, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, experienced a heartbreaking mass shooting that has now become one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Three of them, including this horrific Florida one, have occurred in the last five months.
Investigators believe the suspect, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, pulled a school fire alarm to draw people out of classrooms and, presumably, to get a higher death toll. Students were confused, according to CNN, because they'd already had a fire drill that day. Cruz used an AR-15 rifle he legally obtained in the past year after passing a background check. He concealed himself among the students fleeing the school, killing at least 17 unsuspecting adults and students before police arrived. Fourteen others were wounded, five of which have life-threatening injuries. The victims have not yet been named at the time of this post.
Police identified Cruz through school security videos and found him in the nearby Coral Springs neighborhood, where he was arrested. The man is now charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Reports and interviews about Cruz have been troubling. The shooter was expelled from the high school last year, when he was a junior, for disciplinary problems, though the police do not yet know the specific reason. Former classmates called him "troubled" and "quiet and strange," noting that he bragged about shooting rats with his BB gun. All he would talk about was guns, knives and hunting, they added. Students would even joke that if anyone opened fired in school, it would be him.
Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami Herald that the school administration had emailed teachers warning about Cruz before.
"We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him. There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus," Gard said, though he recalled Cruz was "very well-behaved" in his class.
His digital footprint was also alarming. It featured gun and violence-related postings, including comments of "I whana shoot people with my AR-15" (sic), "I wanna die fighting killing s**t ton of people" and "I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people." His Instagram page also had photos of him holding firearms or brandishing knives. One showed several guns laying on a bed.
Cruz and his biological brother were adopted by Lynda and Roger Cruz. Their adoptive dad died when the boys were much younger, and their adoptive mom died of pneumonia less than four months ago, on Nov. 1. The brothers lived with a family friend after her death, but Cruz wasn't happy and moved in with a friend's family around Thanksgiving. The Sun Sentinel in South Florida reports that the unidentified family gave him his own room and urged him to attend adult education classes. Cruz also worked at a local dollar store. They knew he had a gun and made him keep it in a locked gun cabinet in the house, which Cruz had the key to.
"The family is devastated, they didn’t see this coming. They took him in and it’s a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished," said Jim Lewis, an attorney representing the family. "He was a little quirky and he was depressed about his mom’s death, but who wouldn’t be?"
With the frequency of mass shootings and tragedies, it can be hard to keep track of everything or even know what to say to the kids. How do you talk to children about guns? What age should they be before you even talk to them about tragedies? Unfortunately, it's a conversation that parents are having to start more often these days.