When James and Kimberly Snead took in Nikolas Cruz late last year, he was a socially awkward teenager lost in the world, depressed by the death of his beloved mother.
But to the Sneads, Cruz appeared to be progressing.
The young man who had been friendly with their son regularly attended adult-education classes, bicycled to his job as a cashier and watched TV shows with the family. Cruz hoped to become an infantry soldier. With the Sneads’ help, the emotionally troubled 19-year-old planned to resume mental-health therapy begun years earlier.
“Things were looking up,” James Snead told the Miami Herald on Sunday. “Just two weeks ago, he said it was the happiest he’d ever been.”
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That is why Cruz’s horrific rampage last week – gunning down 17 people, wounding 15 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland – came as a stunning blow for a family that wanted nothing but to help a wayward young man.
And the troubling details of Cruz’s past – the visits by police to his old home, the menacing social-media posts, the tip to the FBI about his threats that went un-investigated – were equally as surprising, the Sneads say.
“Everything that everybody now knows about him, we didn’t know,” said Snead, 48, a construction consultant and former U.S. Army soldier.
James Snead shared this story with the Miami Herald, four days after Cruz was captured and arrested for murder and attempted murder in the worst school shooting in Florida history. Cruz’s defense lawyers have already said he will admit guilt in hopes of avoiding the death penalty.
Since the shooting, the Sneads have faced the glare of law enforcement and media around the world. They first shared the story with the Sun-Sentinel.
“What else could this family have done to help put this young man on the right track?” said the family’s attorney, Jim Lewis. “Please don’t blame them for doing the right thing. They’re victims too.”