Crime

‘Burn. Kill. Destroy.’ Parkland mass shooter claimed ‘demons’ drove him to violence.

Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during a Broward court hearing in April. Prosecutors have released portions of his interrogation with Broward homicide detectives.
Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz during a Broward court hearing in April. Prosecutors have released portions of his interrogation with Broward homicide detectives. AP

Hours after he shot and killed 17 people at a Parkland high school, Nikolas Cruz sat in a Broward Sheriff’s police interrogation room. He was not defiant. Instead, he cast himself as a pathetic failure beset by a “demon” in his head.

Cruz spoke so softly a homicide detective could barely hear him. Cruz said he did not “deserve” a bottle of cold water offered by police. When a detective left the room, Cruz muttered to himself: “Kill me. Just f***ing kill me” and “I want to die.” He repeatedly called himself “stupid” and “lonely” and told police his family “would make me feel bad.”

When asked about the “voice” in his head, Cruz claimed it was his “evil side.” Even though he admitted thinking his arsenal of guns looked “cool,” he blamed the voice for making him buy guns, ordering him to kill animals and even listening to “evil” music.

“What does it tell you to do?” Broward Detective John Curcio asked him, according to a transcript of Cruz’s police interrogation released Monday.

“Burn. Kill. Destroy,” he replied.

Curcio, a veteran and earnest police detective who built a quick rapport with Cruz over hours of questioning, wasn’t buying it. As the interview wound down, he repeatedly pressed Cruz on the supposed voice in his head.

“I think you’re using the demon as an excuse,” Curcio said.

“I’m not,” Cruz insisted. “I promise ... I don’t like the demon. I don’t like the demon.”

“That’s if the demon exists,” Curcio shot back.

“Can I get an attorney or something?” Cruz asked, with the request all but ending the interview — but long after he confessed in detail.

Video provided by a resident shows the Douglas school shooter being arrested by police at Pelican Point in Parkland, Florida.

Cruz’s demeanor and claims of hearing a voice in his head were detailed in a transcript of his police interview released Monday, more than a week after a Broward judge ruled a redacted version of it could be unveiled to the public. The reasons for the redaction: Under Florida law, anything deemed “substance of a confession” can be shielded from the public until a trial or the case is closed.

That means Cruz’s detailed account to homicide detectives of the planning and execution of the worst school shooting in Florida history will still remain secret, for now. Much of the 217-page document was blacked out; prosecutors plan to release the corresponding and edited video of the statement on Tuesday.

The Broward Public Defender’s Office, which represents Cruz, had asked a judge to restrict release of the entire document and video, saying it could still unfairly sway potential jurors at a trial that is likely years away. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who reviewed the redactions, didn’t agree and ordered the interrogation released.

Defense lawyers did not appeal the ruling.

The release of the statement comes days after the Broward County Public Schools district released a redacted report on Cruz’s troubled years under district supervision. Most of the 70-page document, which details Cruz’s educational career from pre-kindergarten to his final year in the school system, was supposed to be blacked out.

But because of a redacting error, first discovered by the Sun Sentinel, the entire report was readable — and chronicled his stormy school life and two failures by educators to get him proper services.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Cruz for the Feb. 14 attack that killed 17 students and staffers and injured 17 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. The Broward Public Defender’s Office has offered to have Cruz plead guilty in exchange for life in prison, not execution.

The horrific attack — one of many highly visible mass shootings in recent years across the nation — galvanized student activists and led to renewed criticism of U.S. gun laws.

Even though much of the transcript is redacted, the statement nevertheless offers many insights into Cruz’s state of mind leading up to the shooting. He told Curcio that he occasionally did drugs, including marijuana and Xanax . “A lot. No one knew about it,” he said.

He also described his failure with girls, his constant cutting of his own skin, his flunking a test to enter the armed services and that he tried killing himself about two months before the shooting. His method: Cruz swallowed a “bunch” of Advil, but he only got sick.

Cruz’s lawyer, Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, said the statement revealed a deeply twisted person.

“Nikolas Cruz is the most severely damaged and broken human being that I have seen in 40 years of doing this work, and everybody knew it,” said Finkelstein, referring to the school employees, law enforcement officers and mental health professionals who came in contact with Cruz in the years leading up to the shooting. “This wasn’t someone shy in the corner and stewing in their own mental illness. Nikolas Cruz’s behavior was on everybody’s radar.”

Cruz’s attorneys could use the supposed voices in his head to claim he was not guilty by reason of insanity. But the strategy rarely plays well with jurors — Cruz would have to prove he did not know right from wrong, and the calculated manner of the massacre makes the insanity defense unlikely to succeed.

“Whether you use it or you don’t use it, it doesn’t matter,” Finkelstein said. “This case is about whether he lives or dies, not whether he goes free.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the attack, said Cruz deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law and that the snippets of his confession show the need for stronger gun-control laws.

“I feel no remorse or sympathy for what he has coming,” Guttenberg said, adding: “This is a person who had every red flag and he was able to legally purchase the gun he used to kill my daughter.”

Mural artist Manuel Oliver unveiled his mural dedicated to his slain son, Joaquin, a Stoneman Douglas student, and other victims and family as he pleaded for people to vote for candidates who will change gun laws.

Among other revelations in Cruz’s interview:

Cruz displayed a mastery of firearm terminology, said the AR-15 he used to gun down former classmates was “cool looking” and added he practiced by shooting inside his mother’s garage. His mother, Lynda Cruz, who died several months before the massacre, even took him to gun and sporting stores to buy the weapons, he said.

He also claimed the “voice” in his head led him to consider shooting up a park a week before the massacre.

“So why do you think you didn’t do it at the park? Detective Curcio asked him.

“Uh, f**k. I don’t know why,” Cruz replied.

Police allowed Cruz to have a heart-to-heart talk with his younger brother, Zachary Cruz, as Detective Curcio spoke. Nikolas Cruz made more admissions about the crime — details of which were redacted — and the two embraced several times in an emotional scene.

Zachary Cruz, clearly pained by his brother’s plight, implored him to not commit suicide and find God.

“I love you with all my heart,” Zachary Cruz said.

“I’m sorry. I love you,” said Nikolas Cruz, before falling back into despair. “I’m a failure, dude. There is no question about it.”

His brother replied: “No, you’re just lost.”

Cellphone video released by the Broward State Attorney's Office shows confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz giving a detailed account of how he was going to pull off his attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Miami Herald staff writer Colleen Wright contributed to this report.

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