Shooters House Parkland School Was Ruled By Chaos, Violence And Hearings

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (TBEN) – Chaos has reigned in the Florida home where school shooter Nikolas Cruz grew up, according to testimony in his ongoing criminal trial.

He and his half-brother Zachary tormented their widowed adoptive mother, Lynda. By the time Cruz reached high school in the early 2010s, the couple took their fists and baseball bats to the walls, leaving gaping holes. They smashed televisions and cut into furniture, witnesses said.

Zachary may have been two years younger, but he was taller and stronger and bullied his brother relentlessly—a social worker recalled Zachary climbing on a counter and stepping into Nikolas’s cereal while he ate.

Lynda Cruz called the family’s 420-square-foot home at least two dozen times between 2012 and 2016 to settle one son, the other, or both. Most of the calls were for fighting, destroying her property, disrespecting her, or running away.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman Nikolas Cruz was seen earlier this month during the sentencing phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Nikolas was very easy going and I think Zachary had fun pushing Nikolas’ buttons,” said Frederick Kravitz, one of Cruz’s child psychologists. In turn, “they were very good at pushing (their mother’s) buttons.”

In an effort to counter that, assistant attorney Melisa McNeill and her team have turned Cruz’s history into the center of their case, hoping that at least one juror will vote for life. A death sentence must be unanimous.

An undated photo shows the Cruz family.  According to witnesses, Cruz's adoptive mother called the sheriff's deputies to her family's home at least a dozen times after her husband's death as she struggled to control her two sons.
An undated photo shows the Cruz family. According to witnesses, Cruz’s adoptive mother called the sheriff’s deputies to her family’s home at least a dozen times after her husband’s death as she struggled to control her two sons.

Sun Sentinel via Getty Images

The defense wants to show that from Cruz’s birth to a hard-drinking, crack-smoking prostitute in Fort Lauderdale, Cruz never received the necessary help, even as he grew out of control.

And nowhere was that more evident than in the house Roger and Lynda Cruz built in Parkland, an upscale Fort Lauderdale suburb. They adopted Nikolas at birth in 1998 and in 2000 Zachary, who had a different biological father.

Lynda Cruz, who turned 50 shortly after Nikolas’ adoption, was a stay-at-home mom. Roger Cruz, then 61, ran a successful marketing business.

Lynda Cruz “had wanted a child, always wanted a child. So once she had Nikolas, she felt like her family was complete,” friend Trish Davaney-Westerlind testified. “It was a cute little baby. She was going to get him all these sailor outfits. She was just the happiest I’ve ever seen.”

At the age of five, just as Cruz was entering kindergarten, he saw his father suffer a fatal heart attack at the family’s home. As a result, Lynda Cruz in her mid-50s was left alone with two sons who would have challenged a much younger couple.

Being unemployed, she became paranoid about spending, keeping the thermostats on her air conditioners in the 80s (25 to 30 degrees Celsius), and unplugging unused appliances. A friend said her monthly electric bill was $80, a fraction of what the owner of a large South Florida home usually pays.

She locked the fridge on a padlock so her sons couldn’t eat without permission and kept it so that the poorly stocked neighbors gave her groceries.

Friends gave conflicting testimonials about whether Lynda Cruz was really financially stuck or had wealth that she didn’t want to spend.

“She was a little scared of him,” neighbor Paul Gold testified.

Despite Cruz’s tantrums, Lynda Cruz told teachers and counselors that he was gentle and loving, like a mother’s child. Friends testified that that wasn’t quite a facade – Cruz and his mother had a strong, often affectionate attachment, and she preferred him over his brother.

Still, Zachary remained popular around the neighborhood while Cruz was the outcast — and not just with kids.

Steven Schusler testified that shortly after moving nearby, his landlord called the Cruz boys and pointed to Nikolas, then about 10.

“He’s the weird one, isn’t he Nicky?” Schusler remembered what the woman said. Cruz “curled himself up” and “looked like a snail when you put salt on it.”

But Cruz’s behavior was often strange and sometimes violent. When he was 9, a parent called the police after hitting her child on the head with a rock. When his dog died after eating a poisonous toad, he went hunting for the amphibians. In high school, his outbursts disrupted classes and he covered his homework with racist remarks, swastikas, obscenities, and stick figures having sex or shooting each other.

Lynda Cruz became so overwhelmed in Cruz’s early teens that a social worker was assigned to help. That brought case manager Tiffany Forrest home. She said Lynda Cruz complained that Nikolas wouldn’t wash, so Forrest tried to explain the importance of hygiene to him. Cruz got up, walked out, and jumped into the pool dressed. He then got out.

“I showered,” he told Forrest.

In the coming weeks, Cruz’s attorneys are expected to testify about his transfer to a school for students with emotional and behavioral problems, his time with Stoneman Douglas, and call his brother to testify. Zachary now lives in Virginia with two benefactors.

Their mother died less than four months before the shooting.

Fort Lauderdale TBEN writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report.