Nikolas de Jesus Cruz is the 20-year-old who is alleged to have murdered 17 people in a deadly rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. President Donald Trump described the young man as “mentally disturbed,” as have others commenting on the attack. In the hours after the shooting, media coverage and commentary was nearly constant. Numerous politicians, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and others have reiterated their calls for added gun laws as a result.

One story that has captured the hearts of many people is of high school teacher Melissa Falkowski, who is credited with saving the lives of at least 19 students by hiding in a closet. 

In the aftermath of the shooting, in which 15 persons were wounded at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Falkowski told CNN in an interview, “I feel today that our government has failed us and failed our kids and didn’t keep us safe.” She described that at the end of the school day on Wednesday, a fire alarm sounded and prompted her to evacuate with her class as if it were mere fire drill. “We got maybe 15-20 steps out of the classroom and we were told we were on code red. We ran back inside to the classroom and got down, crouched down into the closet.” Saying that the shooting was “the nightmare scenario that you hope never happens,” Falkowski said, “It’s totally unacceptable. Society failed those people today.”

Falkowski told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she and other faculty had trained for scenarios such as the one that unfolded on Wednesday. She said, "The frustration is that we did everything that we were supposed to do ... and still to have so many casualties. ... I feel today like our government, our country, has failed us and failed our kids and didn't keep us safe."

Significantly, Falkowski works in the area of media. In 2016, the Sun Sentinel newspaper reported that she won award as Journalism Adviser of the Year for Broward County. She told the paper that she especially enjoys her work assisting students in producing their yearbooks, saying  “It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Also, Falkowski has been notable for her political activity. Her Facebook posts betray her interests in former president Barack Obama, leftist Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) She is also a fan of groups such as Dream Defenders (which advocates for the illegal aliens who are participants in the Obama-era Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals DACA), and Millennials for Revolution. In 2016, she was an organizer of a work-to-rule protest within her school district. She told WSVN news, “We’re working from 7:15 to 2:45, and that’s it. Just fulfilling our contractual obligations and not doing anything extra, not grading papers at home.” Stating that she was earning $45,000 in salary, while others were earning $73,000, Falkowski stated that the state government and school district “made it impossible for those of us who are on the lower part of the scale to ever reach that number. It’s very disheartening.”

Profile of a shooter

Since the shooting, a profile of the shooter and the stricken high school’s response to his previous behavioral issues has emerged.

Cruz was taken in last year by a married couple in Parkland after the November 2017 death of his adoptive mother of Cruz. His adoptive father died approximately 10 years ago. On the morning of the incident, Cruz did not act strange, according to an attorney representing the family who took him in. In an interview with CNN, attorney Jim Lewis said, "They just blew it off," adding, "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."

Attorney Lewis said that Cruz appeared to be depressed but recovering after the death of his mother. Cruz was taking a GED class and worked at a local Dollar Tree store. Cruz exchanged text messages with the son of the couple who opened their home to him, but did not write anything on Wednesday that could have allowed them to foresee the shooting. 

Cruz owned an AR-15 rifle that was kept in a locked gun safe in the home he shared with the family. He had a key to the safe, according to the attorney. When he was confronted by CNN reporter Alisyn Camerota, who asked whether it was appropriate for a depressed teen to have access to a gun, attorney Lewis responded, "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. They had it locked up and believed that 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."

Lewis said, "He was a smaller kid and (there's) some indication there might have been some bullying going on, but again, he'd been away from the school for over a year and had never shared with them any contempt for the school or anybody here -- no anger, just a lot of depression and stuff going on around the loss of this mother." He added, "They didn't see a mentally ill person or they never would've let him live under their (roof). ... They did not see any danger. They didn't see any kind of predilection that this was going to happen and they're horrified just like everyone else."

What the school knew

According to CNN, Broward County Mayor Beam Furr said that Cruz "had been dealing with mental health issues." The mayor said, "He had been undergoing some treatment...I don't know if he was exactly on law enforcement's radar, but it wasn't like there wasn't concern for him. He had not been back to the clinic for over a year, so there's been a time where he was receiving treatment and then stopped."

Cruz was expelled for disciplinary reasons from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2017, where he would allegedly carry out the massacre, according to Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, who did not elaborate. Cruz was transferred to another school. Sometime last year, Cruz legally acquired a rifle. In numerous social media posts, he posted photos of himself with various weapons, including knives.

Schoolmates said that Cruz was quiet and strange. One student said that Cruz claimed to have been expelled from two private schools and had flunked two grades. He was involved in the JROTC program and had received several awards, including recognition for maintaining a high grade point. He also received awards for outstanding conduct in school. However, some students felt that Cruz was troubled, pointing out that he would show off his guns and threaten to bring them to school multiple times. According to NBC news, student Julien Decoste said that other students had commented about Cruz and "threw jokes around that he'd be the one to shoot up the school." Decoste said that Cruz "did a lot of bad things at school" and posted photos of "dead lizards and stuff that he shot" on his Instagram feed. 

On WFOR-TV news, an unidentified schoolmate said of Cruz, “He always had guns on him,” who added, “The crazy stuff that he did was not right for school, and he got kicked out of school multiple times for that kind of stuff.”

Mathematics teacher Jim Gard told the New York Times that Cruz had been his student during the first semester of the 2016-17 school year, but appeared to be quiet and undisruptive. However, Gard remembered that school authorities were concerned about Cruz’s behavior and alerted school personnel. Gard said, “We received emails about him from the administration,” Gard told NYT. Gard told the Miami Herald, “We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him.” He added, “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

Some students reported that he brought bullets to campus.

Student Drew Fairchild told the Miami Herald that he shared a class with Cruz in their freshman year. Fairchild said, “He used to have weird, random outbursts, cursing at teachers,” and added, “He was a troubled kid.”

Another student told WFOR-TV that students at the high school stayed away from Cruz and feared that he could become the sort of person to open fire within the school. A student told the Miami news station,.“A lot of people were saying that it would be him,” and added, “They would say he would be the one to shoot up the school. Everyone predicted it.”

Student Brandon Minoff told CNN that Cruz aspired to join the military. “He was always to himself and never tried to associate himself with anyone,” Minoff said. “As far as I know, he didn’t have any friends.”

In an interview with Brian Williams of NBC, Minoff said, “Banning guns just creates a higher demand. It will not prevent school shootings.” When Williams asked Minoff what he would do if he were a legislator, Minoff said, “Gun-wise, I don’t think there’s any way to prevent it. You outlaw guns, it only creates higher demand for them.” Williams pressed further, asking Minoff, “So what was your reaction when you heard that it was him?” Minoff replied, “I wasn’t surprised. It was unfortunate to hear.”

While school officials have not said exactly why Cruz was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a student told the New York Times that Cruz was expelled for bringing knives to campus. The New York Times reported that a fellow student and her friends knew that Cruz was mentally ill and was known to kill animals. 

The New York Times also reported that.Helen Pasciolla, who lives near the residence that Cruz shared with his mother in Parkland, learned from him about one year ago that he and his family planned to move. She said that Lynda Cruz, who was the adopted mother of Cruz and his brother Zachary Cruz, frequently had disciplinary problems with her adopted sons. She said that Lynda Cruz one called on police to come to the home to speak to her sons. “I think she wanted to scare them a little bit,” Pasciolla said. “Nikolas has behavioral problems, I think, but I never thought he would be violent.”

According to law enforcement, Cruz left behind various social media posts relating to firearms and violence. Also, a social media bearing the name “Nikolas Cruz” as a handle used slurs against Muslims and blacks. Under the name “Nikolas Cruz,” there were threats such as "I whana shoot people with my AR-15," "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." 

Also, a YouTube user using the Nikolas Cruz handle posted a comment on a YouTube page in September 2017, declaring “I’m going to be a professional school shooter." Alarmed, the vlogger who posted the video that received the comment notified the FBI, who interviewed him at his office in Mississippi. It was vlogger Ben Bennight who called the FBI with his concerns about the comment, but did not hear from the agency again until the hours after the shooting on Wednesday. The FBI has confirmed that it received a report about the post, which was one of two it received.

Politicians, celebrities, and students respond

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) took to the floor of the Senate in the hours after the shooting in Florida, saying, "Let me just note once again for my colleagues, that this happens nowhere else other than the U.S.A.... We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else." 

On her Thursday broadcast, Megyn Kelly said on NBC, "There have been at least 12 — at least 12 — school shootings in America so far in 2018." Kelly added, "It’s February 15th. We’re averaging one just about every three or four days. How we doing, America? Everyone okay with that?" She went on to say, "No gun reforms are getting through. They’re not. And most of the ones that will be proposed in the wake of this shooting will be utterly meaningless and wouldn’t have even arguably prevented this killing. The NRA is too powerful. Our politicians are too weak. And the guns are too ubiquitous."

After President Trump delivered his remarks deploring Wednesday’s shooting, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta shouted, "Mr. President, why does this keep happening to America? Will you do something about guns?" Trump refrained from answering, and left the room. 

Also on CNN, the network’s terrorism analyst -- former FBI and CIA officer Phil Mudd -- openly wept and became discomposed when asked by network anchor Wolf Blitzer to comment on Parkland shooting. Blitzer asked, “What's going through your mind as someone who used to work at the FBI?” Mudd replied, “You think it's antiseptic. It's not. I talked to a terrorist who almost died, because he wanted to blow up a weapon, a car bomb; and he was sent to blow up that car bomb by ISIS and al Qaeda. And they didn't tell him he was going to blow up the car bomb. When he detonated, the car caught fire. It didn't blow up. And I talked to him after he lost a lot of his skins, his hands, his feet.”

Becoming increasingly emotional, Mudd, said, “I have ten nieces and nephews. We're talking about bump stocks. We're talking about legislation. A child of God is dead. Cannot we acknowledge in this country that we can't, we cannot accept this. I can't do it, Wolf. I'm sorry. I can't do it.” 

Blitzer said, “All right. We're going on get back to you. But you're obviously, this is so emotional, unfortunately. It happens all too often. And as a result, people say we've got to learn some lessons. Unfortunately, lessons are never, ever learned.”

On Thursday, student Isabella Gomez said in an interview with CNN when asked what her response was to President Donald Trump’s condolences over the shooting, "He really needs to take into consideration gun control. There's no reason that a kid, 19 years old that's been investigated already, and not even a year ago, being able to purchase an AR-15." 

When CNN reporter Alisyn Camerota interviewed student David Hogg on Thursday, she asked whether he had a message for lawmakers, congress, and the president, he responded “My message to lawmakers, congress: please take action. Ideas are wonderful. Ideas are great. They help you get re-elected...What we need is action. Please, this is the eighteenth one this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role.”

Other schools, other responses to violence

In numerous cities and states, authorities have responded to the risk of violence in school by adding armed officers to their personnel. Among them are Oakland (Calif.) and Detroit (Mich.), both of which have school districts equipped with their own police departments. In California, there are at least three school districts that allow designated personnel to have firearms within reach. In 2016, those California school districts were: Kingsburg Joint Union High School District near Fresno, Anderson Union High School District in Shasta County, and Folsom Cordova Unified School District near Sacramento.

Also in California, State Rep. James Gallagher (R-Chico) introduced this month a bill (AB-2067) that would allow school districts in the Golden State to form their own police departments under the supervision of a school chief of police and employ peace officers. Each school district, under this bill, would be required to hire or contract with at least one armed security guard at each school in the district. 

In the case of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the lone armed security guard on duty during Wednesday’s shooting never encountered the shooter, thus failing to protect members of the faculty and the 3,200 students on the multi-story campus.




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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