Nikolas Cruz is suspected of killing 17 people and injuring more than 50 in a Broward County, Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nikolas comes from a small adopted family that consisted of his older parents and his younger, biological brother. Friends and family members say he grew up in a loving home, but tragedy struck twice with the death of his father when he was a young child, and then the death of his mother just a few months ago. Cruz was a troubled teen, other students said, but his own aunt said she was shocked to learn that he was the suspected Florida shooter. Here’s everything we know so far about Nikolas’ family.
1. Nikolas And His Brother Were Adopted When They Were Very Young
When the news about the school shooting first emerged and Nikolas Cruz’s name was shared publicly as the suspect, a lot of people on social media began spreading rumors that because of his name, he was a DACA recipient. They claimed he was a dreamer and this was some kind of proof about immigration laws. But these rumors are unfounded, and Snopes has rated the dreamer claim as “unproven.” This was one of many false rumors circulating immediately after the shooting, including claims that there was a second shooter (there was not.) While authorities were searching for Nikolas, he was described by police as a red-haired male wearing black pants and a maroon shirt. He and his younger brother, Zachary, were adopted by their parents when they were very young. Lynda and Roger Cruz had moved to Broward County from Long Island, New York, and adopted the boys after they moved.
2. Nikolas’ Mother Had to Support the Boys By Herself After His Father Died Unexpectedly
Nikolas Cruz’s life had a tragic beginning. When he was only six, his father Roger Cruz died of a heart attack in 2005, the Sun-Sentinel and ABC 10 reported. His father had worked in advertising and his mother, Lynda Cruz, was a stay-at-home mom. But everything changed after his dad died, and suddenly Lynda had to raise the boys on her own. But despite being a single parent, she kept a close eye on her children and got Nikolas help whenever she thought he needed it. An anonymous family friend told ABC 10: “[Lynda] brought them up by themselves. She did the best she could. When Nikolas was young, he needed extra attention. She knew in school he needed extra help.”
3. Nikolas’ Mother Died of Flu Complications With No Warning
Nikolas’ parents were older when they adopted him and his brother, and they had always wanted children. But his mother was still in good health at the age of 68 when she came down with the flu this past year. Lynda’s cousin, Kathie Blaine, clarified with ABC News that she had checked into a clinic to get help, and then worsened and was rushed to the hospital. She died of pneumonia, and her unexpected death hit Nicholas hard. Kathie wrote a heartfelt note on Lynda’s obituary page online: “I still can not believe that you are gone. You are with Roger now and I know that will make you happy. Say hello to Nicky, Larry, Lee and Emma. You will be forever missed by me. Your cousin, Kathie.”
4. His Aunt Was Shocked to Learn That Nikolas Was the School Shooter
Barbara Kumbatovic, Lynda’s sister-in-law, told the Sun-Sentinel that she had only met the boys once, a long time ago at a friend’s funeral. But she and Lynda had stayed in touch over the years. Although some students at the school had guessed that Nikolas Cruz was the shooter before his name was even released, Barbara was shocked to learn the news. She had no idea they had any kind of trouble that was so major. She said she knew there were some issues, but she always thought they had just been more minor issues that teens face.
“I know she had been having some issues with them, especially the older one. He was being a problem. I know he did have some issues and he may have been taking medication. [He] did have some kind of emotional or difficulties… [Lynda] kept a really close handle on both boys. They were not major issues, as far as I know, just things teenagers do like not coming home on time, maybe being disrespectful.”
However, neighbors said that police in the area knew him as a child very well, because they often stopped by. Craig Koblitz told New York Daily News: “The thing is, they’re talking about how the police were at that house 10 times. The police in this area knew that kid very well. He was not a stranger to these cops at all around here.”
An anonymous family member told the Sun-Sentinel that Lynda had gotten Nikolas counseling from a young age after he was diagnosed with autism. “She did her best getting him any help he needed.”
5. Friends Took Nicholas in After His Mom Died & Made Him Keep His AR-15 Locked Away
After his mother died, Nicholas and his brother were left in the care of family friends who lived in Palm Beach County, BuzzFeed reported. But Nicholas was unhappy with the situation and asked a school friend if he could stay with their family. The family knew about the AR-15 that he owned, but had never seen him shoot it. They made him keep the AR-15 in a locked gun cabinet, but he had a key, the family’s attorney Jim Lewis told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The family only ever saw him shooting pellet guns.
“The family is devastated, they didn’t see this coming. They took him in and it’s a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished,” Lewis said. “He was a little quirky and he was depressed about his mom’s death, but who wouldn’t be?”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said that Cruz entered the school with one AR-15 rifle and multiple magazines. He shot 12 people within the school building, but also shot people outside and on a nearby road. He was later apprehended at a home a short distance away.