An undated photograph of Nikolas Cruz. Picture: Facebook
An undated photograph of Nikolas Cruz. Picture: Facebook

A FRACTURED LIFE: Florida shooter was walking time bomb

DISTURBING details are coming to light about the fractured family life of accused Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz and his terrifying behaviour in the lead up to Wednesday's massacre.

Cruz, 19, had been staying with the family of a friend following the death of his adoptive mother Lynda three-and-a-half months ago.

The family's lawyer, Jim Lewis, told reporters that on the morning of the shooting, Cruz refused to get out of bed when the friend's father woke him up to take him to adult educational class as usual.

"The friend's father said something like, 'It's Valentine's Day. I don't go to school on Valentine's Day,'" Mr Lewis said.

"They just blew it off. This is some 19-year-old that didn't want to get up and go to school that day, and (they) left it at that."

The suspected Florida high school gunman flashes a gun in a selfie on his now deleted Instagram page. Picture: Twitter
The suspected Florida high school gunman flashes a gun in a selfie on his now deleted Instagram page. Picture: Twitter

The family's son knew Cruz, so they opened their home, got him into a GED (General Educational Development) class and helped him get a job at a local store, the lawyer said.

"He seemed to be doing better," Mr Lewis said.

Before the mass shooting that left 17 adults and children dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cruz had exchanged texts with the son, who was a student there.

Mr Lewis described the texts as nothing out of the ordinary.

"How you doing? What's going on? Yo, you coming over later? That kind of stuff. Nothing to indicate anything bad was going to happen," he told the Sun-Sentinel.

The family, who has requested anonymity, knew that Cruz owned a gun. The teenager bought the AR-15 - the weapon he unleashed at the school from which he was expelled - from a licenced dealer after passing a background check.

Mr Lewis said the family told Cruz he had to be responsible with the weapon. They told him to keep it in a locked box in his room, and entrusted him with the key.

"This family did what they thought was right, which was take in a troubled kid and try to help him, and that doesn't mean he can't bring his stuff into their house," Mr Lewis said.

"They had it locked up and believed that was going to be sufficient, that there wasn't going to be a problem. Nobody saw this kind of aggression or motive in this kid, that he would ever do anything like this."

Lynda and Roger Cruz adopted Cruz and his biological younger brother, Zachary after the couple moved from Long Island to Broward County, Florida.

Roger Cruz died several years ago of a heart attack, leaving Lynda to care for the boys on her own.

Relative Barbara Kumbatovich told the Sun-Sentinel that Lynda, who had always wanted children, tried her hardest to give Cruz and Zachary the best possible life.

"I know she had been having some issues with them, especially the older one," Ms Kumbatovich said.

"He was being a problem. I know he did have some issues and he may have been taking medication. [He] did have some kind of emotional problems or difficulties.

"(Lynda) kept a really close handle on both boys. They were not major issues, as far as I know, just things teenagers do like not coming home on time, maybe being disrespectful."

Another relative, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed Cruz had been diagnosed with autism.

An undated school photograph of Cruz. Picture: Facebook
An undated school photograph of Cruz. Picture: Facebook

The brothers were still young when Roger died of a heart attack. Cruz in particular was affected by the loss and Lynda sought counselling for him.

"She did her best getting him any help he needed," the relative said.

After Lynda's death from pneumonia on November 1 last year, the brothers moved in with a family friend in Palm Beach County but Cruz wasn't happy.

He asked a friend, who he knew from his time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High if he could move in with his family. The friend's family agreed and Cruz moved in around thanksgiving.

Their lawyer Jim Lewis told reporters that they went out of their way to make Cruz comfortable, giving him his own room, enrolling him in GED classes and helping him get a job at the local dollar store.

"The family is devastated, they didn't see this coming", Mr Lewis said. "They took him in and it's a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished. He was a little quirky and he was depressed about his mum's death, but who wouldn't be?"

Meanwhile neighbours have told reporters that Cruz terrorised them.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed that Cruz had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for ''disciplinary reasons'' but he insisted he didn't know the specifics.

Longtime Cruz family neighbours Malcolm and Christine Roxburgh told the Sun Sentinel that the police came to the boy's house many times, as he used to get in trouble and harass people. Malcolm Roxburgh said a neighbour across the street kept pigs, and Cruz targeted the family.

''He didn't like the pigs and didn't like the neighbours, so he sent over his dog over there to try to attack them,'' Mr Roxburgh said.

His wife said she once caught Nikolas peeking in her window.

''I said, 'What are you doing here?' He said he was looking for golf balls. I said, 'This isn't the golf course,''' she said.

Ms Roxburgh said that when Cruz didn't want to go to school, he would bang his head against a cement wall. They were scared of him.

''He could have killed any of us,'' she said.

Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN Cruz was getting treatment at a mental health clinic for some months but hadn't been there for more than a year.

''It wasn't like there wasn't concern for him,'' Mr Furr said. ''We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren't connected.

"Most teachers try to steer them toward some kind of connections. In this case, we didn't find a way to connect with this kid.''

Students told reporters that Cruz was called ''weird'' and a ''loner''. Even those who had been friendly with him said they hadn't seen him in more than a year since his expulsion.

Dakota Mutchler, 17, recalled Cruz posting on Instagram about killing animals and said he had talked about doing target practice in his backyard with a pellet gun.

''He started going after one of my friends, threatening her, and I cut him off from there,'' Mr Mutchler said.

He said students weren't surprised officials had identified Cruz as the shooter.

"I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him.'' he said.

But Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie told AP he did not know of any threats posed by Cruz to the school.

''Typically you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there,'' Mr Runcie said.

"I would be speculating at this point if there were, but we didn't have any warnings. There weren't any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made.''

On Thursday morning, Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities. He was ordered held without bond and booked into jail.

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