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School officials wanted Parkland shooter committed

Issued: 2018-03-18

MIAMI - Officials were so concerned about the mental stability of the student accused of last month's Florida school massacre that they decided he should be forcibly committed.

But the recommendation was never acted upon.

A commitment under the law would have made it more difficult if not impossible for Nikolas Cruz to obtain a gun legally.

Cruz is accused of the shooting rampage that killed 14 students and three school employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14. In addition, 17 people were wounded.

But more than a year earlier, documents in the criminal case against Nikolas Cruz and obtained by The Associated Press show school officials and a sheriff's deputy recommended in September 2016 that Cruz be involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation.

The documents, which are part of Cruz's criminal case in the shooting, show that he had written the word "kill" in a notebook, told a classmate that he wanted to buy a gun and use it, and had cut his arm supposedly in anger because he had broken up with a girlfriend. He also told another student he had drunk gasoline and was throwing up. Calls had even been made to the FBI about the possibility of Cruz using a gun at school.

The documents were provided by a psychological assessment service initiated by Cruz's mother called Henderson Behavioral Health. The documents show a high school resource officer who was also a sheriff's deputy and two school counselors recommended in September 2016 that Cruz be committed for mental evaluation under Florida's Baker Act. That law allows for involuntary commitment for mental health examination for at least three days.

Such an involuntary commitment would also have been a high obstacle if not a complete barrier to legally obtaining a firearm, such as the AR-15 rifle used in the Stoneman Douglas massacre on Feb. 14, authorities say.

There is no evidence Cruz was ever committed. Coincidentally, the school resource officer who recommended that Cruz be "Baker Acted" was Scot Peterson - the same Broward Sheriff's Office deputy who resigned amid accusations he failed to respond to the shooting by staying outside the building where the killings occurred.

David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, said that an involuntary commitment would have been a huge red flag had Cruz attempted to buy a firearm legally.

"If he had lied, hopefully the verification of the form would have pulled up the commitment paperwork," Weinstein said.

The documents do not say why Cruz was not committed under the Baker Act or whether he may not have qualified for other reasons. The law allows a law enforcement officer such as Peterson to initiate commitment under the Baker Act.

An attorney for Peterson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Sunday.

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