Broward County

Video released of Parkland school shooter describing ‘demon’ that drove him to kill

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s police interrogation

Prosecutors on Wednesday released video of Nikolas Cruz's interrogation, hours after he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14.
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Prosecutors on Wednesday released video of Nikolas Cruz's interrogation, hours after he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14.

Prosecutors on Wednesday released video of portions of the police interrogation of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, in which he claims “a voice” in his head ordered him to commit violence.

The video’s release came two days after authorities released a transcript of the interrogation, redacted to hide Cruz’s account of what exactly happened the February afternoon he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, armed with an AR-15 rifle and killed 17 students and staffers.

While Florida’s broad public record law allows for most criminal-court evidence to be released to the media, state law allowed the “substance of a confession” from a defendant to be shielded to protect his right to a fair trial.

The majority of the 217-page statement was redacted. Still, the Broward Public Defender’s Office had sought to keep the whole document from being released, saying it could still taint a potential future jury.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer disagreed and ordered the redacted transcript released to the media.

The videotaped interview runs over 12 hours. While heavily edited, it still offers a glimpse into Cruz’s mindset leading up to the shooting — or at least, how he wanted to be seen by Broward Sheriff’s Office homicide detectives.

He cast himself as a pathetic figure, shunned by girls, made “to feel bad” by his family and with no chance at a future in the military as he’d hoped. For much of the interview with senior homicide detective John Curcio, Cruz talked about the supposed “demons” in his head.

“What does it tell you to do?” Curcio asked him.

“Burn. Kill. Destroy,” he replied.

The skeptical detective, later in the interview, pushed back on Cruz’s claims that he’d been hearing a voice in his head for years.

Said Curcio: “I think you’re using the demon as an excuse.”

The interview was conducted hours after the massacre. All interviews with suspects in murder cases are video recorded, and can be shown to jurors at a potential trial.

Cruz, 19, is facing the death penalty for the worst school shooting in Florida history. His lawyers have offered to have him plead guilty if prosecutors agree to waive execution as punishment, something the State Attorney’s Office has declined to do.

Wearing a patterned blue hospital gown, Cruz was so withdrawn and sullen during the interview that at times he could barely be heard. His feet were shackled to the ground.

Asked for his phone number 20 minutes into the interview, Cruz began to hyperventilate, running his hands through his hair and moaning. (He had thrown up after being arrested near the school roughly an hour after the attack.)

“Nik, the doctors already looked at you,” Detective Curcio told him. “You’re fine ... Calm your breathing down.”

Later, his younger brother Zachary Cruz was allowed into the room. He hugged the seated Nikolas — an embrace made awkward by the handcuffs binding his brother’s arms behind his back — as the alleged shooter wept. “I love you with all my heart,” Zachary Cruz said.

Zachary Cruz talks to his brother, Nikolas, hours after Nikolas killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, 2018. Prosecutors released video of the police interrogation Wednesday.

After about eight hours in the interview room, Nikolas Cruz put his head on the table and appeared to sleep.

Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said the statement shows that the system of mental-health professionals, educators and police failed to stop Cruz in the years leading up to the carnage.

Finkelstein said the longer Cruz’s case drags on, as prosecutors seek the death penalty rather than a life sentence, the more victims’ families and the wider community will suffer. A dark online subculture idolizes school shooters and Cruz is sent “buckets” of fan mail, including young women who send photos of themselves in lingerie, according to Finkelstein, although he added that the letters are not passed on to Cruz.

“We believe it is the best interest of the community and the victims’ families to end this case now,” Finkelstein said Monday. “Lock him up forever, throw away the key, don’t speak his name.”

After the release of Cruz’s statement, the father of one victim said he and his family “have faith” in Broward State Attorney Michael Satz and his office’s decision to seek the death penalty.

But Ryan Petty, who is running for Broward County School Board, said he is more focused on working to stop future tragedies from happening, especially by encouraging more coordination between schools, police and mental health professionals.

“I think it’s clear that Cruz was troubled the entire time he attended school,” said Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed at Stoneman Douglas. “I believe these [shootings] are preventable.”