Brother of Parkland school shooter gets a new life — and a free apartment — out of state

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The brother of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz will be allowed to start a new life — out of state, with a new home and job.

A Broward judge allowed 18-year-old Zachary Cruz, who is under court supervision for trespassing at the school his brother attacked, to transfer his probation to Virginia. That’s where he’ll be under the care of Nexus Services, a company that says its helps people rebuild their lives after incarceration.

Cruz is being represented by Nexus Derechos Humanos, the company’s civil-rights legal aid branch. He is suing the Broward Sheriff’s Office, State Attorney’s Office and court system for what his lawyers say was heavy handed treatment after he was arrested for trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in March.

The teen will remain under court supervision, must check in with the Broward Sheriff’s probation department and will also have to wear an electronic ankle monitor.

He’ll be living at a free apartment owned by Nexus, given a $13-an-hour job as a maintenance man and be be monitored by a company executive living nearby. The town: Staunton, about 170 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Cruz will also be taking online classes to get his high-school diploma — he said he wants to study to become an auto mechanic.

His lawyers say Cruz needs a new start, away from the media glare in South Florida.

“I’m very happy with the court’s ruling,” Cruz told reporters. “I’m looking forward to starting a new life there.”

Said Broward County Judge Melina Brown said it “seems to be a wonderful opportunity” but warned Cruz he needs to follow the law.

“I’m not going to stop you. I’m going to send you to Virginia,” she said. ” I’m going to require you to grow up a little bit and understand there is no law violation that is a small violation.”

His brother, Nikolas Cruz, is facing the death penalty for the mass shooting at the campus that killed 17 people and wounded 17 more. The shooting spurred national outcry, renewed student activism and calls for gun control.

The Feb. 14 shooting also led to intense scrutiny on the Cruz brothers and their tumultuous home life, which spiraled when their adoptive mother died last fall. Zachary Cruz went to live with a family friend in Palm Beach County after his mother died, but was kicked out in the wake of the shooting.

“We didn’t have a good relationship,” Cruz testified during Friday’s hearing. “I have a fresh relationship with these people.”

Cruz, like his brother, had a history of mental-health issues. As a teenager, Cruz frequently ran away from home and was convicted three times in 2016 for grand theft, petty theft and criminal mischief.

Prosecutors cast Cruz as infatuated with his older brother — and his notoriety, even floating the idea of starting a fan club for the school shooter. Deputies arrested the teen in March for trespassing at the school, “I’ll be straight up. I just wanted to take it all in,” he told a deputy as he was being detained.

Zachary Cruz was later held on a $500,000 bond for the second-degree misdemeanor charge, an amount his lawyers said violated his civil rights. Cruz agreed to probation, although he was briefly jailed for violating probation for driving without a license — he admitted Friday he drove because he didn’t want to skate to the skate park.

Broward prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy wasn’t totally convinced, but did not outright oppose the move to Virginia.

“I can’t tell you I’m not without trepidation about this transfer,” she said, adding: “The state of Florida wants nothing more than for Mr. Cruz to be successful.”

During Friday’s hearing, Nexus’ director of services, Terry Ann Johnson, said she personally will ensure Cruz gets to full-time work, regular therapy and meetings with a pastor. “He has to report to me every day. I’ll probably see him every day,” she testified.

The judge put her on notice.

“I’m holding you responsible,” she told Johnson.


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