Florida, its institutions, failed Nikolas Cruz — and the rest of us

Miami Herald Editorial Board

It’s chilling. In just-released video, confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz resolutely announces that he will execute former classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Cruz looks and sounds so determined, energized by the thought of hunting and killing human beings. It turns the stomach.

The three cellphone videos, released Wednesday by the Broward County State Attorney’s Office as part of discovery in Cruz’s criminal case for killing 17 people at the school — three short of his “goal of 20,” we learn in one video — are a turning point in Cruz’s defense, at least in the court of public opinion. It’s obvious, he has no defense for the heartache he unleashed.

At 19, Cruz sounded like the stone-cold killer that he says he is. In his words and demeanor, there is no hesitation, just pure excitement about the plan he has concocted. “You’re all going to die. Pew pew pew. I can’t wait,” he says, with a callous laugh.

Yes, there is also some evidence on the videos that he was lonely and isolated, that he would always love a girl named Angie and that he resented the world because he perceived that he was mistreated by others he felt were inferior to him. Well, he showed us, didn’t he?

It’s very possible that Cruz will end up on Florida’s Death Row. His public defender has said that Cruz will plead guilty in hopes of avoiding the death penalty, which the prosecutor’s office is pushing for. Indeed, so many of us, horrified by Cruz’s murderous act itself, don’t need the videos to make the case for death.

It’s a visceral reaction that feels right, that might close the circle. Might. Whether he receives the death penalty or not, he will not see the light of freedom ever again.

More important, is what this community, this region, this state stand resolutely ready to do to repair all the institutions that failed Cruz as he grew up traumatized by the death of first his father, then more recently his mother. As police were called to his residence more than 35 times. As he flamed out of mental-health treatment with little follow up.

None of this is a bid to make Cruz a sympathetic figure. It’s too late for that.

But in September 2017, Cruz left a comment on a YouTube video — using his own name — that simply read: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI was warned about the comment, but couldn’t identify him, even though he left them the most obvious clue possible.

There were warning signs along the way, too, at his schools that the Broward School District missed, or failed to correctly gauge how troubled this teen really was, He was sent into a special program, but failed to enter, yet the district did nothing substantial. Anyway, he was going to graduate soon.

Currently, a commission created by the broad school-safety law passed by the state Legislature under extreme pressure this year is one of the best mechanisms for the state to correct course, especially in the area of mental-health treatment, an area in which Florida sets too high a bar — imminent danger to oneself or others — before a troubled person can be forced into treatment.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission is charged with investigating the system failures that led to Cruz’s massacre and developing recommendations to remedy them.

That, of course, is where the Legislature too often fails to follow through. Too much money, too much coddling, the reasoning seems to go. But if Florida continues to fail its troubled, its mentally ill, its “imminent dangers,” it will continue to fail us all.