FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The brother of the teen charged with killing 17 at a Florida high school says the shooting suspect pointed a rifle at him and another time at their mother, but they didn't call 911 - which a former prosecutor says may have been failed opportunities to prevent the massacre.
Zachary Cruz told The Miami Herald in an interview published Thursday both incidents happened months before Nikolas Cruz allegedly killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. During the interview he also told about his brother's habit of cutting himself, his fixation on guns and violence and his penchant for killing squirrels, birds and lizards and taking pictures or pieces of their corpses as a souvenir.
"He was mentally ill, and in hindsight, his actions were a cry for help," said Zachary Cruz, 18 and a year younger than his brother.
Zachary Cruz told the newspaper his brother threatened him after he slapped Nikolas' hands for sticking fingers into a jar of Nutella. He said his brother ran upstairs and came back pointing a rifle at him. No specific date was given.
"If you are going to shoot me, shoot me!" he says he yelled at his brother, as their horrified mother looked on. He says his brother calmed down, put the gun back in his room and then watched TV.
"I never messed with him again," said Zachary Cruz, who last weekend moved to Virginia to take a job with a nonprofit organization. That came after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor trespassing at Stoneman Douglas for riding his skateboard on campus about a month after the shooting.
Zachary Cruz says his brother pointed a rifle at their mother, Lynda Cruz, last September after she wouldn't take him to a cabin, cursing her and saying he was going to shoot her in the head. She ran to her car and drove away. Zachary Cruz said he watched from his second-floor window as Nikolas Cruz followed her outside.
"He was in the middle of the driveway, in the middle of the street with his AR-15," Cruz said. "I had 911 ready to go on my phone. I was scared. I think he just came up and he put his gun away and I hung up."
Their mother died in November of pneumonia. During her illness, Zachary Cruz says he asked his brother what he would do if she died.
He says his bother responded nonchalantly, "I would just kill people."
Nikolas Cruz's attorneys have conceded he was the shooter and have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Two lawyers interviewed by The Associated Press on Thursday said assuming Zachary Cruz's statements are truthful and accurate, it is impossible to say with certainty that if police had been called the massacre could have been prevented.
Former federal and state prosecutor David Weinstein thinks it likely, but only if Zachary and Lynda Cruz didn't back down when officers interviewed them.
"If the police found probable cause to support the accusations, they would have arrested Cruz and seized the guns as evidence," said Weinstein, who is now a criminal defense attorney. "That would have increased the likelihood he would not have been able to carry out what he did."
Robert Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University's law school, pointed to the numerous times law enforcement, school officials and others were called or alerted about Nikolas Cruz's bizarre and violent behavior throughout his adolescence, but he was never arrested or given intensive treatment.
"We really don't know what the police would have done. We do know there were many, many opportunities where the system was interacting with Cruz and each time he slipped through the cracks," Jarvis said.
Zachary Cruz says he now wished he, his mother or someone would have gotten help for his brother.
"A lot of people failed him," he told the Herald. "Including me."