School shooter will offer to plead guilty, public defender says

PARKLAN, F.L. — Confessed Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz intends to plead guilty, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said Friday.

Finkelstein said the object is to avoid a painful trial and for Cruz not to get the death penalty.

Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

‘Significant mental illness’

Questions are being raised about Cruz’s home life and mental health.

Cruz was adopted — but his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died in November of pneumonia, and his adoptive father passed away years ago, said Kathie Blaine, Lynda’s cousin.

After Lynda Cruz’s death, the family of someone Cruz met at the high school let him stay in their home, said Lewis, the host family’s attorney.

That family knew he had a gun, Lewis said. “They had it locked up, and believed that that was going to be sufficient, that there wasn’t going to be a problem.”

The family was unaware of any mental illness beyond depression over his adoptive mother’s death, Lewis said.

“Obviously, he’d lost his mom. But they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store. They got him going to an adult education so he could try to get his GED and he seemed to be doing better,” Lewis said.

But Gordon Weekes, executive chief assistant of Broward’s public defender’s office, which is representing Cruz, said Thursday that Cruz is “suffering from significant mental illness and significant trauma.”

“He has been experiencing and enduring mental illness his entire life. That has been an ongoing issue that he has been dealing with. That, coupled with the loss of his mother, the depression, and other issues,” Weekes said.

Before Lynda Cruz died, Broward sheriff’s deputies were called to the Cruz family home 39 times since 2010, according to documents obtained by CNN.

The sheriff’s office received a range of emergency calls that included reports of a mentally ill person, child/elderly abuse, a domestic disturbance and a missing person.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Friday there were 20 calls for service over the past “few years” pertaining to Nikolas Cruz.

Suspect ‘remorseful,’ attorney says

Cruz is being held without bond after he attended via video a brief hearing Thursday in Broward County court.

“He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful,” said public defender Melisa McNeill, who is Cruz’s lead defense counsel. “He is fully aware of what is going on. He’s just a broken human being.”

Cruz entered the high school he had once attended on Wednesday at about 2:21 p.m., according to a law enforcement timeline.

In the minutes leading to the shooting, he exchanged texts with the son of his host family, who is a current student at the high school and was there during the shooting.

They were messaging until 2:18 p.m., said Jim Lewis, the attorney for the host family.

The texts were “very innocuous,” Lewis said. “They were just conversations about ‘Hey, what are you doing? What are you doing later? What’s goin’ on?'”

After the shooting, Cruz fled by blending in with the students and staff evacuating the school. He bought a drink at a Subway store, then sat at a McDonald’s for a few minutes, the timeline states.

Investigators identified Cruz from school security videos and he was detained about 40 minutes later in a neighboring community.