After the deadly Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., national media focused largely on a handful of student activists, leaving it to victims’ parents to unravel why the slaughter happened. Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was one of the 17 killed, conducted his own investigation to uncover the roots of what he calls the most avoidable mass murder in American history. He and Max Eden are co-authors of “Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students.” This adapted excerpt, based on never-before-released educational records of the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, shows the Broward County school district knew full well about his obsession with guns and murder — and then let him practice shooting at school.
When staff at Westglades Middle School heard that Nikolas Cruz had committed the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, some couldn’t believe it. The fact that he was a mass murderer wasn’t what surprised them, but rather the fact that he had attended that school.
“How is that possible?” one Westglades educator recalled thinking. “We did our jobs. It took forever, but we got him [to the specialized school] where he needed to go. We couldn’t believe they ever let him into [Douglas].”
Westglades students and staff had never seen anyone like Nikolas Cruz. One student, Paige, recalled the time that she met Cruz. They were standing outside their classroom waiting for their teacher to open the door, and Cruz offered her a hug, which Paige accepted. Their teacher later pulled Paige aside and warned her, “Don’t touch him. He just got caught jerking off.”
If something frustrated Cruz, he would curse and threaten anyone nearby. He would hide behind corners and doors, jump out and scream at people, and then cackle at their fear. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he would burst into maniacal laughter.
Another student, Sarah, recalled a time when he threw his chair across a classroom. Later, she saw him sitting outside the classroom with his desk tied down.