Thursday 26 April 2018

'Weird and racist loner' charged with 17 murders

Valentine's Day link after 'trouble with girl'

Nikolas Cruz (19), a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where he allegedly killed 17 people, makes his first appearance in court. Photo: Susan Stocker/Getty Images
Nikolas Cruz (19), a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where he allegedly killed 17 people, makes his first appearance in court. Photo: Susan Stocker/Getty Images

Nick Allen

The teenage gunman charged with unleashing one of the United States' worst school shootings had been trained by a white supremacist paramilitary group, and may have chosen Valentine's Day to strike after the end of a relationship with a girlfriend.

Nikolas Cruz (19) - described by fellow pupils as a "weird and racist" gun-obsessed loner - has been charged with murdering 17 people at his former school in Parkland, an affluent suburb north of Miami, Florida

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

According to one of the group's leaders, Cruz trained with Republic of Florida, which campaigns for a "white ethno-state".

Jordan Jereb said Cruz had probably used his training to carry out the attack, but had not been told to do so by anybody at the organisation.

He said Cruz "acted on his own behalf" and was "solely responsible for what he just did". Jereb also said Cruz had "trouble with a girl" and the Valentine's Day timing was probably not a coincidence.

It also emerged Cruz had previously been treated at a mental health clinic, but was still able to legally purchase an AR-15 rifle and large amounts of ammunition, passing a background check in February 2017.

US President Donald Trump delivered a sombre address from the White House after the 18th school shooting in the country this year, but he avoided any mention of curbing access to guns.

Instead, he would "tackle the difficult issue of mental health".

He added on Twitter: "Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem.

"Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said: "It cannot be denied that something dangerous and unhealthy is happening. We are going to take action. We must reverse these trends."

Florida governor Rick Scott said: "If someone is mentally ill, they can't have access to a gun."

Barack Obama, the former president, said on Twitter: "Until we can honestly say that we're doing enough to keep them [our kids] safe from harm, including long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws that most Americans want, then we have to change."

Survivors of the mass shooting demanded action. David Hogg, a pupil who witnessed it, said: "We're children. You guys are the adults. Work together and get something done."

Last night, Cruz made his first court appearance dressed in an orange jumpsuit,hands shackled to his waist.

Asked to confirm his name he told the judge: "Yes Ma'am." He was ordered to be held without bail.

There had been a litany of missed warnings about Cruz.

Last year, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sent an email to its teachers telling them not to let Cruz on site if carrying a backpack after bullets were found in his bag.

He was then expelled after fighting with the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend, according to a fellow pupil.

On September 24, a YouTube user calling themselves Nikolas Cruz posted a message saying: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

It was left on the YouTube page of Ben Bennight, a bail bondsman in Mississippi, who immediately reported it to YouTube and the FBI.

The following day he was visited by two FBI agents, who took photographs of the post.

Mr Bennight next heard from the FBI on February 14, half an hour after Cruz was arrested. An agent left a message saying: "If you wouldn't mind giving me a ring..."

FBI agent Robert Laskey said the message in September had been investigated. He said: "The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who made the comment."

Cruz was born in New York but adopted as an infant, along with his brother, by Roger and Lynda Cruz.

Roger died of a heart attack when Cruz was a child. Lynda died of pneumonia on November 1 last year and he moved in with another family.

Jim Lewis, a lawyer for the family with whom Cruz was living at the time of the shooting, said: "There was no indication that anything severe like this was wrong. Just a mildly troubled kid who'd lost his mother."

Fellow pupils said they had feared Cruz would "shoot the place up". Dakota Mutchler, 17, said: "I think everyone had in their minds, if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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