WASHINGTON: The couple who took in Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz after his mother’s death have described him as quirky but pleasant and seemingly on the right track, saying they had no idea they had a “monster living under our roof”.
Cruz, 19, moved in with James and Kimberly Snead of Parkland, Florida in late November after his adoptive mother died earlier that month from complications of pneumonia, they told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in an interview published Sunday.
He was a friend of their son.
Prone to odd eating and sleeping habits and unused to any form of housework, he was nevertheless making progress in dealing with his grief and kept himself busy with adult education classes along with his job at a discount store, the couple said.
“I told him there’d be rules and he followed every rule to the T,” James Snead, 48, an army veteran and military intelligence analyst, told the paper.
“We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know,” added Kimberly Snead, 49, a neonatal nurse. “We didn’t see this side of him.”
Cruz killed 17 people at his former high school last Wednesday using an AR-15 rifle that he had legally purchased. It was the US’s worst school massacre since the horror at Sandy Hook six years ago that left 26 dead.
He also owned several other guns, including two other assault rifles as well as knives, according to the Sneads who own firearms themselves and did not find this unusual.
And his ultimate aim was to join the army and become an infantryman, something he had become excited about after a recent meeting with a military recruiter.
Troubled past, warnings ignored
A profile has emerged of a troubled young man who was expelled from school last year for “disciplinary reasons”.
The FBI admitted receiving a detailed warning last month about Cruz’s gun ownership, erratic behaviour, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential for him carrying out a school shooting.
The agency took no action, despite the tip-off.
Cruz was also known to police after his mother repeatedly reported him for violent outbursts, while records obtained by the same newspaper showed authorities investigated Cruz in 2016 after he cut his arms on messaging app Snapchat and threatened to buy a gun.
But he was eventually deemed a low risk and later passed a background check, allowing him in Feb 2017 to buy the AR-15 rifle used in the massacre.
The Sneads said it appeared he had grown up without ever having to do common chores — he couldn’t cook, do laundry, pick up after himself or even use a microwave.
“He was very naive. He wasn’t dumb, just naive,” James Snead told Sun Sentinel.
Cruz had quirky habits, like putting a chocolate chip cookie on a steak and cheese sandwich, and going to bed at 8pm. He seemed lonely and badly wanted a girlfriend, and was also depressed about the death of his mother, the couple said.
Kimberly Snead had taken Cruz to the office of a therapist just five days before the shooting, and he had said he was open to therapy if his medical insurance would cover it.
Cruz told the Sneads he would inherit at least $800,000 from his parents, with most of the funds becoming available when he turned 22 — and the claim appeared to be borne out by paperwork the couple have subsequently seen, they said.
On the day of the attack, Cruz sent several text messages to the Sneads’ son, who was still studying at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In one, he asked what classroom the boy was in, adding in another that he had “something important” to tell him. But he then wrote: “Nothing man.”
The couple last saw Cruz at the Broward County Sheriff’s office. Dressed in a hospital gown, he was handcuffed and surrounded by deputies.
“He said he was sorry. He apologised. He looked lost, absolutely lost,” said James Snead. “And that was the last time we saw him.”
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2018