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Broward County

Parkland school shooter had a friend. She was 13 and lived across the country

 

Before killing 17 people, Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz confided in a 13-year-old girl who lives in Washington State that he felt suicidal and was upset about being bullied.

“He was angry at the school because he got bullied a lot,” the girl told a Broward Sheriff’s Office detective investigating the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “He said he was, like, pushed around and beat up some time. ... He said it made him feel very, like, sad and that he hated the school because of it.”

The girl, now a freshman in high school, said she communicated with Cruz through texts and phone calls, and that they had met late last year on an Instagram page for young people who were hurting themselves or considering suicide. Now 14, she told him she was two years older than she really was, the girl’s mother said in a phone interview Friday, and Cruz told her he was two years younger than his actual age. She said she never knew his last name and they never met face to face. The Miami Herald is not naming her because she is a minor.

“It’s the weirdest thing,” the girl’s mother said. “We got dragged into this clear across the country.”

Scant evidence has emerged that Cruz was bullied or beaten up in high school, although many students and adults feared his bizarre behavior and sometimes violent conduct. Cruz seems to have provoked one documented fight he participated in at Stoneman Douglas over a love triangle. He left the school in 2017 to attend an alternative learning center.

The girl’s mother said she was shocked when detectives called after the shooting to tell her that phone records showed her daughter had been communicating with Cruz. Cruz had also been talking with another friend of the daughter who she said acted as an informal depression counselor to other teenagers online. The calls and texts with Cruz stopped in the weeks before the shooting, the mother said.

“The texts were pretty normal,” said the mother, who read through her daughter’s phone after speaking with police. “But it was really traumatizing for my daughter [after she realized Cruz was the shooter]. She thought he was a decent person. She would’ve said something if she thought those kids were in danger.”

Nikolas Cruz appears in court on Aug. 15, 2018. He is charged with gunning down 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Amy Beth Bennett Sun Sentinel file photo

“I thought I knew him pretty well,” the daughter said in an interview with the Herald, saying Cruz talked about “going shooting” recreationally but did not express a desire to commit violence to others.

She said Cruz withdrew before he finally cut off contact about two weeks before the shooting.

“He wasn’t acting like himself,” she said.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office on Friday released a transcript of the girl’s statement to police, which they took by phone March 3. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and faces the death penalty. The 20-year-old had expressed the rage he felt toward Stoneman Douglas in a series of frightening cellphone videos recorded before the attack.

“With the power of my AR-15 you will all know who I am,” Cruz said in one video released by prosecutors in May.

“Today is the day, the day it all begins. The day of my massacre shall begin,” Cruz also said. “All the kids in the school will run in fear and hide. From the wrath of my power they will know who I am.”

The flag-draped coffin of Alaina Petty is placed in a hearse after her funeral at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Feb. 19, 2018, in Coral Springs. Petty, a 14-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was one of 17 people killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland. Joe Raedle Getty Images

Other witness statements released Friday seemed more in line with that portrait of an angry, violent young man.

Agustin Felman, a Stoneman Douglas student, told police Cruz once said he “wanted to shoot black people.” Kevin Fanti, a gun store employee who sold Cruz an AK-47, said he later saw Cruz with a swastika drawn in Sharpie on his wrist. Another student, Michael Garvey, said Cruz showed him a “lunch box full of bullets.”

“He made us all nervous,” said Marni Garvey, his mother.

“He was Jekyll and Hyde,” said a former neighbor, Paul Gold. “He was very nice, very polite, sweet person when he was sweet and then, you know, he would freak out and start throwing things and start breaking things and start holding his ears and screaming.”

Although sheriff’s deputies, school officials and even the FBI were aware of Cruz’s troubling behavior, authorities were unable to prevent the deadly attack. Cruz even returned to Stoneman Douglas, where he was no longer a student, on the first day of school, leading security to be called, one teacher told detectives.

The next time Cruz came back would be with a gun.

“There were so many chances where they could have stopped him before the shooting,” said the girl’s mother in Washington. “He was screaming out that there was something wrong.”

Miami Herald writer Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this report.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

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