Teachers wanted Nikolas Cruz transferred to alternative school with mental health services
Madyson Kravitz, 17 and a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School, found the day to be very emotional. Kravitz will keep working each day to finish the school year and get past the tragedy from two weeks ago. Andrea Melendez/news-press.com
Brandon Travinski, 14 and a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, was ready to head back to school Wednesday morning. He wanted to be with his classmates and teachers, even though he knew it would be a hard day to get through. Andrea Melendez/news-press.com
Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, 17, speaks about her experience inside of the building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shooting that left 17 students and teachers dead occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Olivia Vanni/Naples Daily News
Officer Bernard Hilson, with the Broward County Sheriff's office, gave high-fives, handshakes, and even a few hugs to Stoneman Douglas students as they returned to class for the first time since the Feb. 14th shooting. Andrea Melendez/news-press.com
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students leave school after a half day on campus Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Today marks the first day back in class since the Feb. 14 school shooting. Ashley Collins/Naples Daily News
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students go back to school two weeks after the Feb. 14 shooting. Watch a Facebook Live recording.
Thousands gathered at Pine Trails Park on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 for a candlelight vigil in honor of the 17 victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News
Hundreds of protestors and gun reform advocates stand on the corner of Airport-Pulling Road and U.S. 41 chanting to passersby next to the Collier County Courthouse Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Naples. Luke Franke/Naples Daily News
ROTC cadets at Florida Atlantic University Armand Vezina, left, and Steven Todd White pay their respects to Peter Wang, a 15-year-old JROTC cadet, who died in last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. "Once I heard about Mr. Wang passing and holding the door open we had to come," said Vezina. "He deserves the utmost respect." Luke Franke/Naples Daily News
Isabella Cohen and Gabrielle Barbini survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News
Jaclyn Corin, 17, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks about the student trip she organized with 100 of her fellow classmates to meet with lawmakers in Tallahassee on Tuesday and why it's so important to the #NeverAgain movement.
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, hundreds of students, elected officials, gun control advocates and community members gather for a gun control rally in front of the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.
Annika Dean survived the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting last year. This year her son survived the shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland.
President Donald Trump’s motorcade just left the Broward Sheriff’s Office Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale. Trump is in Florida to meet with families of victims in the mass school shooting. Patrick Riley/Naples Daily News
A group of South Broward High School students skipped school on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 to protest against gun violence. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News
Candles were lit on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 in honor of the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a mass shooting on Wednesday. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News
Moments before a candlelight vigil in Parkland, Florida, on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, to honor the 17 lives in during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News
Gov. Rick Scott gives a briefing from Broward Health North following the school shooting in Parkland. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News
Dr. Benny Menendez, chief of emergency medicine for Broward Health Medical Center, and Dr. Louis Yogel, chief of staff for Broward Health Medical Center, speak about the mass school shooting. Patrick Riley/Naples Daily News
A doctor from Broward Health gave an update on the school shooting Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News
The coach and teammates of mass shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff remember the fallen leader of the Parkland Soccer Club team. Andrew West/The News-Press
Kenny Rodriguez's sons were in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when shooting started. Both made it out safe. Andrew West/The News-Press
Lisa McCrary-Tokes lost her daughter to gun violence a year ago in Ohio. She spoke Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 about the feeling of loss in Parkland, Florida following a mass shooting at a high school. Andrew West/The News-Press
Thousands attended a candlelight vigil on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in honor of those slain and injured in mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Andrew West/The News-Press
Dr. Christopher Roberts, Chief Neurosurgeon for the Broward Health Medical Center had also treated patients from the Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooting in 2017. Andrew West/The News-Press
Scott meets with shooting victims at Fort Lauderdale hospital.
- Madyson Kravitz, 17, found first day back emotional
- Brandon Travinski knew it would be a hard day to get through
- Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, 17, speaks about day of school shooting
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- ROTC cadets pay respects to Peter Wang, a JROTC cadet killed last week
- Parkland high school shooting survivors
- Video: #NeverAgain Student Movement
- Video: Fort Lauderdale Gun Control Rally
- Annika Dean
- Video: Trump visits Fla. after school shooting
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Teachers and counselors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hoped a transfer to an alternative school would provide mental health services for Nikolas Cruz after his behavior and discipline problems increased in 2016.
Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie said Cruz’s situation at Douglas had deteriorated so much so that his counselors and teachers decided to refer him out of the school in early 2017. They hoped he would return to Cross Creek School, an alternative program with smaller classes and a more comprehensive offering of mental health services.
“He declined,” Runcie said. “When a kid turns 18, we can’t force an adult to receive those services.”
The school’s faculty returned Monday to Douglas for the first time since the Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 students and staff and injured 14 others. Students will return to class Wednesday.
Cruz has admitted to the shooting. His lawyers are arguing that the missed opportunities for intervention after reports of violence and threats documented by police, social workers and school counselors should spare him a death sentence.
Douglas teachers and counselors became concerned about Cruz in late 2016, Runcie said.
In September of that year, a student told police that Cruz, depressed and cutting himself, had ingested gasoline in an attempt to kill himself at the high school. The student said that Cruz wanted to buy a gun for hunting and had drawn a swastika on his backpack next to the racial slur “I hate n-----s.”
Counselors from Henderson Behavioral Services, which had sent a mobile crisis team to the school in 2016, advised police that Cruz “was not a risk to harm himself or anyone else” because he was on a treatment plan for ADHD, depression, OCD and autism, according to police and social worker reports.
His medication, counseling and attentive mother had given him stability, the therapist said.
It was one of at least two times Henderson clinicians advised police against involuntary hospitalization — the other during a house call in 2013 after Cruz threw his mother against the wall for taking away his video games, according to records from the Sheriff’s Office and Florida's Department of Children and Families.
A school counselor had told DCF investigators that she expressed concerns that Henderson's assessment may be premature. DCF closed the file six weeks later.
Runcie said in an interview that those educators who knew Cruz at Douglas believed the referral to Cross Creek would be a positive influence on him. Cruz’s disciplinary records obtained by USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA show no problems reported while he attended Cross Creek from early 2014 through 2015.
The year before, then-14-year-old Cruz had 29 incidents in Westglades Middle School, ranging from fights to disruptive and unruly behavior.
After turning down the referral to Cross Creek, Cruz enrolled in “off-campus learning centers” at Henry D. Perry Education Center and Rock Island Professional Development Center, alternative programs for students to make up credits but without mental health services.
In November 2017, after Lynda Cruz died and while Cruz’s younger brother Zachary was living under the care of family friend Rocxanne Deschamps, a school social worker called police after Zachary Cruz stopped attending classes at Douglas to request a welfare check for possible neglect. The caller was “concerned that legal guardianship was never filed,” according to the dispatcher’s notes.
Sharon Langer, a lawyer and development director of the Disability Independence Group, says “incapacitating” a vulnerable adult — taking away their right to decline treatment on their own — requires a high threshold typically reserved for extreme cases.
Scenes from a rally Wednesday, February 21, 2018, at the Florida capital complex. Florida school shooting survivors from Parkland are in Tallassee to talk to state legislators. Ashley Collins/Naples Daily News
A press conference was held Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at the Florida Capitol Senate building in Tallahassee as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students advocate for stricter gun control and mental health laws.
About 100 students marched to the Capitol in Tallahassee to speak to state lawmakers, including senators Joe Negron and Lauren Book, to advocate for stricter gun control and mental health laws Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Ashley Collins/ Naples Daily News
Students from Broward county speak with Republican legislators
See a Facebook Live recording of high school students arriving at Florida's Capitol Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 to advocate for stricter gun and mental health laws.
NeverAgain Rally: Stoneman Douglas survivors march on state Capitol
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students receive a warm greeting at Leon High School as they arrive to Tallahassee on Feb. 20, 2018, to advocate for stricter gun control laws and better mental health care. Ashley Collins/Naples Daily News
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School speak to the media after arriving at Leon High School late Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 in Tallahassee. Luke Franke/Naples Daily News
Students from Broward County boarded buses on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, to talk guns and mental health issues with legislators. Wochit
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“Somebody has to be really, really incompetent,” Langer said. “You can’t just take people and lock them away.”
Critics of Florida's current gun laws point out that access to high-powered rifles, including for those with mental health issues who commit relatively low levels of gun violence, is the underlying problem.
Executives and doctors at Henderson, where Cruz is last known to have received counseling up until 2017, declined to discuss when his treatment stopped or if clinicians handed him off to another facility after he left the school system.
Henderson is the largest mental health provider in the county and has received almost $50 million in state contracts since 2007, according to data from the Florida Department of Financial Services. In 2016 the center received a nearly $22 million grant to keep people from being inappropriately hospitalized or jailed.
Henderson Behavioral, which also provides private mental health care, offers services ranging from crisis intervention to longer-term mental health care, like outpatient and in home therapy, according to its website. Among the services it provides: therapy for families referred by law enforcement due to concerns of possible abuse or neglect, and treatment for youth who are at risk of removal from home due to behavioral health issues.
Prosecutors have requested court orders to obtain mental health treatment records for Cruz from Jerome Golden Center and South County Mental Health Center, in addition to records related to Cruz’s treatment from Broward Health.
After Cruz’s mother died in November 2017, he spent a brief but tumultuous time at a family friend’s trailer in Lake Worth. Then he moved in with the Sneads, a Parkland family who say they didn’t know how serious his mental health problems were. James Snead said Cruz was not taking medication or seeing a counselor while living with them — right up until Valentine’s Day.
“When his mother passed, he was very depressed,” Snead said, noting that Cruz didn’t know how to use a microwave, do laundry or pick up after himself. "He relied on her for everything.”
The Henderson counselors who had earlier advised DCF investigators that he was on a treatment plan were no longer in the picture.
There is no standard system in place to follow up after a crisis or coordinate between agencies, said Miami-Dade County Judge Steve Leifman, a leading expert on mental health-related crimes.
"This is never one person's, one party’s or one institution’s fault,” Leifman said, noting that communication breakdowns are common across the state. “We’ve learned the hard way."