In the latest bombshell report about the life and background of Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old school shooter who murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and wounded more than a dozen more, the Florida Sun Sentinel describes how 5-year-old Cruz found his adoptive father's dead body, and other traumas he and his younger brother Zachary experienced as children growing up in and around Broward County.
The expansive report was compiled from police and school records, as well as interviews with people who knew Cruz.
Cruz was seemingly troubled from the beginning. By the age of 3, he had been diagnosed with developmental delays. By the time he was 6, he'd suffered the trauma of witnessing his father's death. By the time he was 16, he had become preoccupied with wars, death and killing, school records reveal. And of course, as he sits in the Broward County main jail, having confessed to 117 premeditated murders, there's a strong possibility he might face the death penalty.
The Cruzes - Nikolas Cruz's adoptive parents - married late in life. Lynda Cruz, who succumbed suddenly to pneumonia in November, was 49. Richard was 61. They arranged the adoption of Nikolas through a private attorney, insisting that his birth mother pass drug tests and make regular doctors visits. Soon after Nikolas was born, the same woman got pregnant again with a different man. The Cruzes then took in Nikolas's half-brother, Zachary. After they adopted the boys, they moved from Long Island to Parkland, where they build their home, which neighbors described as "a beautiful house"
As young children, the two boys had what friends described as a "very close" relationship with their father.
Less than a year later, the same woman got pregnant again. The baby had a different father. Lynda and Roger adopted that boy, Zachary, as well. Their family was complete.
"They had a beautiful house," said Ben Aaronson, who was close to Lynda and Roger Cruz. The couple had moved from New York and had their five-bedroom, three-bath home built in Parkland, at 6166 Northwest 80th Terrace, county property records show. They had a pool and jacuzzi in the backyard.
"They had a very close relationship with their father," Aaronson recalled of the boys. Roger Cruz was in marketing and traveled for business. But "when he was home," Aaronson said, "he was all about his kids. I remember Roger having this entire, like, really extended type jungle gym out back, in the backyard, being built," he said. "They built another wing to the house, and the kids just had plenty to do."
A golfer and "suit-and-tie man," the elder Cruz didn’t own guns, Aaronson said.
...But their lives took the first of several traumatic turns when young Nikolas discovered his father's dead body in the family den. He was five years old.
"Nikolas came down the hallway and he went to his room, and he was crying. She said, ‘What’s the matter, did Daddy punish you?’ Just as clear as day, he said, ‘Nope. Daddy’s dead.’ ”
Roger Cruz was dead of a heart attack at age 67.
Lynda Cruz sued two heart doctors and won a small settlement for her sons a few years later, court records show.
Lynda was left to raise the two boys alone. As has been previously reported, Nikolas wasn't an easy child. He had been diagnosed with autism, depression, ADHD and other behavioral disabilities.
Still, his mother doted on him. But his development was clearly stunted. In his late teens, he was still learning to do household chores and laundry.
Family friends described young Nikolas as a "momma's boy", adding that she was his only friend. He had trouble making friends and was frequently bullied. His brother told Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies last week that "he and his friends, when they were younger, had bullied Nikolas, which he now regrets ever doing."
During a seven-year period covering much of his adolescence, deputies were called out to his house 39 times.
Cruz never finished high school, and at the time of the shooting he was struggling to get his GED.
He was kicked out of one middle school and transferred to a school with a program for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children. He was eventually allowed to enroll at Stoneman Douglas. During his first month there, he posted on Instagram that he was planning to shoot up the school.