More details about Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated homicide for Wednesday’s school shooting, are beginning to emerge, and so far, they paint a picture of a disturbed child who exhibited signs of violent behavior from a young age.
The suspected shooter is believed to be mildly autistic, and was receiving treatment at a nearby clinic, but had not been back in a year. Cruz told police that he had heard voices in his head telling him to shoot up the school. He described these voices as demons, his legal team said.
Meanwhile, it also emerged that police were called to Nikolas Cruz's family's Parkland home 39 times since 2010, according to police records obtained by CNN.
The sheriff's office received a range of emergency calls that included: 'mentally ill person,' 'child/elderly abuse,' 'domestic disturbance,' 'missing person,' and several others.
Cruz was accompanied during his first court appearance by public defender Melissa McNeil, who placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
Brody Speno a schoolmate of Cruz’s, said cops were called to Cruz’s home “almost every other week.”
“Something wasn’t right about him,” Speno said.
Speno said he knew Cruz from elementary school and described him as “an evil kid” who was “always getting in trouble.”
CNN also reported that Cruz had an unsettling penchant for introducing himself as a “future school shooter.”
"Hi, I'm Nick," he would say, according to an acquaintance. "I'm a school shooter."
Cruz posed with guns and knives in photos posted on Instagram and made a disturbing online comment about a mass shooting carried out in New York this summer.
"Man I can do so much better," he wrote.
Cruz and his brother were adopted at a young age by Roger and Lynda Cruz. Roger died years ago. Lynda succumbed t pneumonia in the fall. He was then taken in by the parents of a schoolmate.
Following his mother’s death, he got into a fight with the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend and was kicked out of school.
One time, a neighbor, concerned about Cruz "acting weird" in the backyard took a video of him dressed in boxer shorts shooting what appeared to be a BB gun. The man, who asked not to be identified, said his wife watched Cruz shooting bottles, cans and buckets over and over again for two days in October. He sometimes pointed the gun toward their window, the man said. In the photo he can be seen wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, according to CNN.
Cruz wrote several disturbing social media posts, including one where he said he wanted to be a school shooter. That post was reported to the FBI, which said it wasn’t able to identify Cruz - despite his name being attached to the post.
"I wanna shoot people with my AR-15" and "Im going to be a professional school shooter"
Not everyone who met Cruz saw reason for concern.. The attorney for the family who took him in after his mother's death said they were aware of trouble he'd earlier had at school and saw signs of depression.
But, "they didn't see any danger," Jim Lewis said of the unidentified family. "They are horrified just like everybody else."
Lewis described Cruz as "a smaller kid" and said there was an indication "there may have been some bullying going on."
Hunter Vukelich, a former manager at a Dollar Tree store where Cruz recently worked while pursuing a GED, said he saw nothing alarming about the young man who would ride his bike back and forth to the job.
"You could tell he was a little off," Vukelich said, but not dangerous.
"He was always very nice, shy, head usually down," he recalled.
Gordon Weekes, one of Cruz's public defenders, said he believed Cruz has been placed on suicide watch.
He said the defense team would be exploring mental health issues and "the possibility of autism."
"We are trying to save this young man's life," he said.