Parkland school mass shooter makes first live court appearance
A Broward County grand jury on Wednesday indicted Nikolas Cruz in Florida’s worst school shooting, formally charging the troubled 19-year-old with a cold and calculated massacre he has already confessed to carrying out.
Cruz faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for the Valentine’s Day shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he previously had been removed after threatening and erratic behavior.
The indictment, which came after two days of witness testimony to grand jurors, was expected in a murder case where there are really only two major unresolved questions: What exactly motivated Cruz to mow down students and staff with an AR-15 assault-style rifle? And should he face the death penalty?
His public defender has already acknowledged Cruz’s guilt and the defense’s aim is to spare a teen with a history of mental health issues from execution. At least one parent contacted by the Miami Herald said he would prefer that Cruz be kept off Florida’s Death Row — but not for reasons of mercy.
“I don’t want the death penalty,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow Pollack, 18, was killed. “I want the guy to rot in prison. Death by injection is too easy.”
The announcement of Cruz’s indictment came in a brief, three-paragraph statement from the Broward County State Attorney’s Office. State Attorney Michael Satz has not publicly stated if he plans to seek the death penalty. But historically, Satz’s office has sought a grand jury finding before deciding on death penalty cases. Satz said he plans to meet with family members of the victims before making a final decision.
In an unusual move, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said his client was willing to accept a guilty plea if the death penalty were removed as an option.
The indictment did offer a slight change in the criminal count, adding two additional attempted murder charges for a total of 17. Only 15 people had been reported injured during the six-minute spree.
Police and the grand jury have charged Cruz with murdering the 17 students and faculty members in the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland school. The 17 are: Luke Hoyer, 15; Martin Duque-Anguiano, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Alex Schachter, 14; Alaina Petty, 14; Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Helena Ramsay, 17; Christopher Hixon, 49; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Aaron Feis, 37; Scott Beigel, 35; Meadow Pollack, 18; Cara Loughran, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; and Peter Wang, 15.
The indictment offers gives a glimpse for the first time of those who were injured in the shooting.
According to the indictment, the 17 injured are: Ashley Baez, William Olson, Kheshava Managapuram, Justin Colton, Alexander Dworet, Genesis Valentin, Daniela Menescal, Samantha Grady, Samantha Fuentes, Isabel Chequer, Samantha Mayor, Benjamin Wikander, Madeleine “Maddy” Wilford, Marian Kabachenko, Stacey Lippel, Anthony Borges and Kyle Laman.
Since the shooting, Cruz has remained locked up in the Broward County Jail. Jail records show that in the three weeks since the shooting, Cruz had received visits from almost 60 people. Among them: prominent criminal defense attorney Bruce Udolf, Cruz’s former caretaker Rocxanne Deschamps — who is fighting to take control of a large inheritence Cruz is expected to receive — psychiatrists, public defenders and family.
Jail records received from the Broward Sheriff’s Office show that Cruz has remained isolated in a single-person cell, rarely interacts with others, listens to commands but often doesn’t respond when he’s spoken to.
When dealing with medical staff, Cruz has acted calmly, the report shows. He spends a lot of time “lying on his back staring at the ceiling.”
The Parkland killings have inspired an ongoing political campaign for stronger gun control in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. — with a group of Stoneman Douglas seniors who survived the attack at the forefront with their #NeverAgain movement. The students are organizing a march in Washington and communities around the country to protest gun violence and raise the issue of gun control. The March for Our Lives is scheduled for March 24.
On Wednesday, Florida lawmakers passed gun and school safety legislation Under it, anyone buying a firearm from a licensed dealer must be at least 21 years old and wait three days before obtaining a weapon, and Florida would have the first statewide program that allows trained school personnel, except those who exclusively teach, to carry guns. Gov. Rick Scott has not said whether he will sign the bill. It remains unclear what if any action Congress will take.
The Cruz case also has exposed failures by state and federal law enforcement. Both the FBI and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had numerous opportunities to interrupt Cruz’s plans, but failed to act on calls indicating the teen planned to shoot up a school and was dangerous.
Last September, FBI agents failed to act on a YouTube video in which someone named Nikolas Cruz said he was going to be a “professional school shooter.” Then in January, someone called the FBI and said Cruz had numerous weapons, wanted to kill and could potentially be a school shooter.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office said it had received 23 calls referencing Cruz over the past decade. The teen was never taken into custody and his weapons were never confiscated. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said two of the calls are now being investigated to determine if police acted properly.
Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.