PARKLAND, Fla.—The teenager charged with killing 17 people at a Florida high school had alarmed authorities, neighbors and classmates, who recounted such behavior as obsessing over weapons, shooting small animals with a pellet gun and harassing neighbors’ pets.
Nikolas Cruz admitted on Thursday to being the gunman who entered the campus armed with an AR-15-style rifle and shot students whom he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds, according to a complaint affidavit released late Thursday.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation also said it fielded a tip last September that a YouTube commenter with the same name as Mr. Cruz made an alarming claim: “Im going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI investigated, but it didn’t link the comment to Mr. Cruz.
The 19-year-old former student, who had been expelled from the school, also may have stalked one of the girls he killed, said a senior law-enforcement official.
“He had a very strange look in his eyes all the time. He has a cold, cold stare,” said Malcolm Roxburgh, a former neighbor.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Cruz took an Uber car to his former high school just before classes were dismissed, Broward County Sheriff
said. He entered a school building with a legally purchased Smith & Wesson M&P 15 in a soft black bag. He readied his rifle and opened fire into five classrooms, the sheriff said. He killed 17 in the school and nearby, while wounding more than a dozen.
The teen left behind a trail of worrying signs that in hindsight seem to have gone unheeded. Neighbors called the police, classmates said he was obsessed with guns, and campus security considered him troubled. “Something was off with him,” said Brody Speno, 19, who went to elementary and middle school with Mr. Cruz.
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this looked like yet another attack preceded by signals.
“Perhaps we haven’t been effective enough in intervening immediately to deal with that,” Mr. Sessions said, speaking to a sheriffs association in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Authorities can’t arrest everyone they believe is dangerous, but “we can and we must do better,” he said.
Other officials, such as President
Florida Gov. Rick Scott
announced plans to redouble efforts to try to stop school violence. They didn’t speak about gun control, and focused more on mental health.
“It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference—we must actually make that difference,” Mr. Trump said, addressing the nation from the White House.
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent
did put the focus on weapons. “Now is the time for this country to have a real conversation on sensible gun-control laws,” he said. “Our students are asking for that conversation.”
Mr. Cruz made his first appearance in court Thursday afternoon for a bond hearing, shuffling in shackles and wearing an orange outfit. He looked subdued and spoke only briefly, answering “Yes, ma’am,” when asked to confirm his identity.
Judge Kim Mollica informed Mr. Cruz that he faced 17 counts of premeditated murder and ordered him held without bond. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, said she deferred any arguments until subsequent court proceedings.
After the court proceeding, Gordon Weekes, chief assistant public defender in Broward County and part of Mr. Cruz’s legal team, described the defendant as “deeply disturbed, emotionally broken,” and said he is on suicide watch. “He fell between the cracks,” the attorney said.
The defense is gathering Mr. Cruz’s mental-health history and will explore his brain development and the possibility he had autism, according to Mr. Weekes.
Meanwhile, Ben Bennight, 36, a bail bondsman in Mississippi, said he contacted the FBI after seeing the comment from “nikolas cruz” on one of his YouTube posts. He also said he reported the comment as spam to YouTube, which took it down. Mr. Bennight, who said he creates videos about his business, didn’t recall what video received the alarming comment.
FBI agents visited Mr. Bennight at the time and returned Wednesday, he confirmed in an interview. He said he felt the agency took the issue seriously. One agent told him they were limited in how they could respond because it wasn’t a direct threat, Mr. Bennight said.
“I wish the information could have prevented something like this from happening,” he said in a new YouTube video, posted after the shooting.
special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office, said the FBI “conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.”
None of that investigation led them to Mr. Cruz, who had developed a reputation in his upscale Parkland neighborhood as a socially awkward menace known to steal the mail of his neighbors, run through the yards of other homes and hurt animals, according to neighbors and classmates.
Also on Thursday, a white supremacist group, Republic of Florida, told the Anti-Defamation League that Mr. Cruz was affiliated with the group, according to an ADL spokesman. The Republic of Florida didn’t return calls for comment.
Former Douglas high-school student Kyle Ramos, who knew Mr. Cruz from the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, said Mr. Cruz liked to get up early, around 6 a.m., and try to kill squirrels outside his house by shooting them with a pellet gun.
Number of fatalities in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S.
1991 Killeen, Texas
1999 Columbine High School, Colo.