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The summer before he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Nikolas Cruz once talked openly at his job about shooting up his former campus — yet another warning sign that went unheeded.
The encounter happened at Cruz’s cashiering job at a Coral Springs Dollar Tree store. Giovanna Cantone, the mother of one of Cruz’s former classmates, was in line. She knew Cruz had been booted from the school. Her advice: Forget about your past troubles and focus on getting an online diploma.
“He says, ‘Thanks for the tip … I can do that [or] go shoot them up,'” Cantone recalled, in a sworn statement included among previously undisclosed evidence released by prosecutors on Wednesday. She added: “He said, ‘I can go shoot them and you know I can shoot you, too.'”
The woman was shocked. But Cantone, like some others who encountered Cruz’s rants over the years, never reported the alarming encounter to authorities. “I didn’t really think he was going to do this,” Cantone told investigators.
Her daughter, a former classmate and co-worker at the discount store, told police: “We thought he was joking.”
A transcript of her interview with police, and those of several other witness, were among a batch of documents released Wednesday as part of the ongoing criminal case against Cruz.
The 19-year-old is facing the death penalty for killing 17 people and wounding 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. The deadliest school shooting in Florida history resulted in continued scrutiny of law enforcement response to the massacre, a wave of student activism over gun control and a state law offering some new limits on firearm purchases.
His defense lawyers have admitted Cruz is guilty, and are hoping the details of his long-running mental-health woes may one day save him from Death Row.
An awkward teenager who had a fixation on guns and racist imagery, Cruz had a long history of emotional outbursts and threats of violence growing up with a widowed mother. The Miami Herald and other publications have for months shown how his threats were reported to school officials or law-enforcement authorities — who never arrested Cruz — while other incidents went ignored.
Efforts to reach Cantone were unsuccessful on Wednesday.
She was not the only one who did not seek to have Cruz arrested for his behavior in the years leading up to the shooting.
A former neighbor in Parkland also reported that Cruz had been using a BB or airsoft gun to kill chickens in their backyard in 2014. “We saw the blood and we can tell where there was a wound and the chicken did die later,” Jonathan Cooper told detectives in a witness statement released Wednesday.
Cooper and his wife Deborah called BSO. They didn’t know who Cruz was. But the deputies who took the call seemed to. Cruz had had several run-ins with law enforcement in the neighborhood.
“They had some idea of where to go apparently,” Cooper recalled. “The officer informed me that they had found the young man that had been in the backyard. And that I think he admitted to it. And he told me that the young man had autism or other disorders.”
But the Coopers decided not to press charges.
“It seemed like a prank, a teenage prank,” Cooper told police. “It wasn’t a real gun.”
Among other details included in witness statements released on Wednesday:
▪ Stoneman Douglas student Dana Craig said that in 2016, Cruz threatened to “kill me and rape and hurt my family.” He blamed her for breaking up his relationship with her friend. Craig said Cruz was “abusive.”
Craig also reported to school officials that Cruz brought knives to campus but “nothing really happened,” she told detectives three days after the shooting.
Like various other students, she also said Cruz liked killing animals. In particular, he harbored a strange vendetta against frogs.
“He would always tell us that he would shoot frogs because his dog died from eating frogs so he left like angry at them,” she said.
▪ One student on the third floor of the freshman building said Cruz pretended to be a wounded student begging classmates to open up their classroom doors and shelter him from the maniacal killer.
“I could hear how the guy started screaming … ‘Open the doors, open the doors.’ … And a lot of people in the class started believing that was someone hurt,” the student told detectives.
But the student didn’t fall for the ploy and insisted classmates keep the door shut. “I knew for a fact that that wasn’t someone hurt … he would have got shot himself.”
▪ Geography teacher Scott Beigel opened his afternoon class on the day of the shooting with a brief lesson about religion, one student recalled.
Beigel — who would be killed minutes later holding open his classroom door so students could escape Cruz’s bullets — told his class that all religions boil down to the same thing: “If you’re a good person, you go to heaven.”