Evil struck again on February 14, 2018, when Nikolas Cruz, 19, came to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 14 young students & 3 dedicated staff members, with an AR-15.
A profile of Cruz has emerged together with his actions leading up to the shooting, and unfortunately, he matches many of the characteristics of previous perpetrators of mass targeted violence shootings. Warning signs were prevalent, but no action was taken. At his arraignment, his court appointed attorney described Cruz as a “broken human being.”
Cruz displayed Threat Posturing, by using social media under his name, Nikolas Cruz, to post; I wish to be “a professional school shooter.” He posted about killing animals on Instagram, and conducting target practice in his back yard. He was described as a loner who displayed abnormal fits of anger and rage.
Like most perpetrators of targeted violence, a triggering event in his life caused him to decide to act out. His adoptive mother died in November 2017, and Cruz went into a deep depression. Isolated, alone, and disturbed, he lost hope in life and decided to do the unthinkable.
Cruz showed Preparatory Behaviors, when he purchased an AR-15, ammo and a gas mask. He obviously planned his executions by pulling the fire alarm to get students to enter the hallway so he could have easy targets. He planned his escape by dropping his weapon and gas mask and merged with students exiting the school.
Lastly, Cruz had Rehearsal Fantasies by posting his thoughts on social media and Instagram. His “leakage” clearly indicated he was narrowing his focus and intended to act out what he was thinking.
Unfortunately, Cruz, like perpetrators of violence in the past, sent messages of his intentions but nothing was done to intervene and deter him from acting out.
The Baker Act in Florida, like California’s 5150 act, allows law enforcement to take a person into custody if they represent a threat to themselves or others. A person deemed a threat can be placed in a mental hospital for 72 hours of observation. However, many of those who are placed for observation leave before the 72-hour period and are frequently angrier than when they were placed in the hospital for observation. It has proven ineffective in preventing someone who is intent on acting out.
So, what is the answer?
First, human behavior is no exact science. However, given a set of behaviors that display aberrant and dysfunctional behaviors engaged in threat posturing, preparatory behaviors and rehearsal fantasies, a person can be determined to have a propensity for violence.
Second, we need to train people to observe, listen and pick up on behaviors that indicate a propensity for violence. When they see those sets of behaviors folks need to
Third, more effective laws need to be drafted and enforced to take a person off the street and place them in a mental hospital for an extended time period and not just for a 72-hour observation. Law enforcement has the ability to seize any weapons from a person who is deemed a threat.
Fourth, people need to be trained on how to respond in a traumatic attack situation. When an attack occurs, people react to the way they are trained. The first reaction is to run from the point of attack. If you can’t exit safely the next step is to hide preferably in a locked room. The last option is to fight. This action step has to be developed to instruct people on how to stack at the entrance of a room and attack the attacker once confronted.
Cruz, like many other perpetrators, used a rifle to carry out his diabolical scheme. But people who are intent on killing innocent victims have used vehicles, homemade explosives, knives, crow bars, baseball bats, and box cutters.
Until we understand the dynamics of what causes a person to become a killing machine, and take specific action steps to stop them, these horrific targeted violence incidents will continue.
Talon provides training in “Targeted Violence Prevention & Active Threat Response.” Our training programs teach how to recognize behavior warning signs, intervention deterrence techniques, and reaction to an active threat situation.
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Ron Williams, CFS
United States Secret Service-Retired