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Brian Halem was supposed to go shooting last Saturday with his new friend from work, Nikolas Cruz.
Halem, 19, a Florida Atlantic University freshman, asked for Cruz’s number so they could coordinate their trip to the range at Gun World of South Florida in Deerfield Beach. “Save it as, ‘Crazy Nick,’” Cruz joked.
Their outing never happened. And Cruz’s joke now seems ominous.
The day after they made their plan, Cruz went on a murderous rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Now, he’s sitting in Broward County Jail on 17 counts of premeditated murder.
It’s something that Halem and Cruz’s other co-workers at the Dollar Tree in Parkland never saw coming. Several spoke to the Miami Herald nearly one week after the massacre.
They remember Cruz as a quiet and helpful colleague — a far different portrait from the one painted by classmates, neighbors and teachers who were so concerned by his erratic and violent behavior.
“He was always happy, he was always smiling,” said April Woods, who last worked with Cruz on Tuesday, the day before the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
Woods said coworkers never saw him as threatening in any way. Cruz was small and always wore a green hoodie, complaining of the cold. She knew he got picked on at school.
“I called him Fragile Nick,” she said.
Cruz started working at the store in a Parkland strip mall around November, after his mother, Lynda Cruz, died, said Hunter Vukelich, the former manager. Vukelich said he invited Cruz to play basketball several times, trying to make the 19-year-old feel included. Cruz never showed up.
“He seemed like a loner,” Woods said.
But he did make one friend at the store. Halem said he and Cruz bonded over their shared enthusiasm for firearms.
“Cruz was a walking dictionary,” said Halem, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas last June. “He knew guns in and out.”
They talked about everything from types of weapons to survival and combat tactics in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, inspired by recent news from North Korea. In hindsight, Halem said, the conversations about tactics – like using doors as cover and wearing a gas mask during a fire fight – might have been a red flag.
But he was still shocked by Cruz’s rampage.
“He was like Two-Face [the Batman villain] but I only saw one face,” said Halem, who lost two friends to Cruz’s bullets.
The only other warning sign: A red cast.
Cruz said he’d grown angry when another friend shot him in the ribs with a pellet gun in early January, Halem said. Rather than punch his friend, Cruz punched the wall, breaking his hand. Other co-workers heard a different story: He fell, maybe when he was drunk.
The cast, Halem said, would have prevented Cruz from pulling the trigger of the AR-15 he used at Stoneman Douglas. But Cruz wasn’t wearing it when police captured him Wednesday not far from the massacre.
Now, Halem says he wouldn’t be sorry if his former friend is put to death.
“He’s a disgusting and vile human being,” he said. “Whatever happens to him he deserves.”
In other developments, the Broward Sheriff’s Office released records of their numerous visits to homes occupied by Cruz over the last few years. But the records provide few details of the encounters.
Deputies visited Nikolas Cruz’s childhood home at 6166 NW 80th Terrace in Parkland at least 39 times in seven years, from January 2010 to March 27, 2017, according to the agency’s incident response log for that address.
The log shows deputies responded to calls mostly for disturbances, but also missing persons, 911 hang ups, and one call each for a mentally ill person on Jan. 15, 2013 and one described as child/elderly abuse on Sept. 28, 2016.
Only three of the calls led to a written report, including the calls for a mentally ill person and for child/elderly abuse. The third call that led to a written report was described as a police service call.
During the same time frame — January 2010 to March 27, 2017 — deputies logged 29 service calls to 7200 Loxahatchee Road in Parkland, the home of the Snead family, which took in Cruz after his mother died in November.
Only one of the calls to 7200 Loxahatchee occurred while Cruz lived with the Sneads: a police service call at 11:04 p.m. on Feb. 14, the day of the Stoneman Douglas High shooting.
At 8442 Lakeview Trail in Parkland, listed as Cruz’s permanent address in his BSO booking report after the shooting, deputies responded to three calls from March 27, 2017 to Feb. 16, including one call for a domestic disturbance on July 18, 2017; one call for theft on Aug. 16, 2017; and one described as an information call on Nov. 1, 2017, the day Cruz’s mother died.
Miami Herald Staff Writers Dan Chang and Charles Rabin contributed to this story.