NetCE - Continuing Education Online
Home About NetCE Staff & Faculty  Contact  Us 
Course Case Studies

Course Case Studies

Read course content

Course # 76430 • Mass Shooters and Murderers: Motives and Paths


Warning Behaviors Model Case Illustration: Nikolas Cruz

In the case documents of Cruz, who perpetrated the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, pre-attack communications or manifestos are not mentioned, but observations by others are replete with distal risk characteristics and proximal warning behaviors of targeted violence [99].

Cruz was diagnosed with developmental delays at 3 years of age and, subsequently, with autism, depression, ADHD, and emotional behavioral disability. Obsessive-compulsive and anger issues were also noted. Over 10 years, the Broward Sheriff's Office responded to 23 calls by his mother for help when Cruz was violent.

In 8th grade, Cruz was placed in a school for students with emotional problems. In 10th grade, his grades were good, but he was fascinated by guns and death. Weeks after transferring to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to begin 11th grade, Cruz posted on social media that he planned to "shoot up" the school. He had become preoccupied with wars, death, and killing. Cruz had trouble making friends, and his peers saw him as peculiar and socially awkward.

Investigated after cutting his arms on social media, Cruz stated he planned on buying a gun. A month after quitting mental health treatment in January 2017, he assaulted a classmate and was expelled from the high school. Cruz purchased the AR-15 used in the massacre one year later. Later that year, he was reported to the FBI after stating he wanted to be a professional school shooter on a YouTube page.

In November 2017, Cruz went to live with neighbors after his mother died. Within weeks, the neighbors called the County Sheriff when kicking Cruz out for violent behavior, stating they feared him because he had eight guns he kept with a friend and that he had put a gun to the head of someone several times. The police received a call the next day that Cruz was collecting guns and knives and could be a "school shooter in the making."

Another family in Parkland took him in. In early January 2018, a caller told the FBI she wanted to get her fears about Cruz's potential for violence off her chest. Citing his social media statements and photos and seeing his behaviors with guns, "It's alarming to see these pictures, to know what he's capable of doing, and what could happen."

In the two weeks before the shooting, Cruz told the family he was living with that he was happier than he had ever been before. On February 14, 2018, Cruz arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High with his AR-15 at 2:06 p.m., when school was letting out for the day, and killed 17 classmates and staff and injured another 17 before surrendering.

Discussion:What risk characteristics and proximal warning behaviors did Cruz exhibit?

back to top