President Trump has blamed a broken mental health system for Wednesday’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but still very little is know about what mental illness the shooter had – if any.
Those who knew Nikolas Cruz described him as a loner with a fascination with guns who was prone to violent outbursts.
In the hours after the shooting, many speculated that Cruz may have fetal alcohol syndrome based on the structure of his face. But little is known about Cruz’s birth mother since she put him and his little brother up for adoption when he was just two years old.
Officials said the teen had received treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but stopped getting help more than a year ago.
The sister-in-law of the teen’s adoptive mother also revealed that he was taking medication at some point for ’emotional difficulties’ but didn’t elaborate on what kind of drugs.
Nikolas Cruz is pictured above in court on Thursday in Broward County
Some prescription medications used to treat depression or psychosis have a side effect of causing murderous thoughts, but it’s unclear if Cruz was taking any drugs at the time or what they were.
While the side effect of ‘homicidal ideation’ sounds scary, many medical experts say most psychotic and depressed people are not violent, and are more likely to be a danger to themselves or others if they aren’t treated.
His defense team is currently looking into his medical history, but say they already suspect he suffered from depression and autism.
Neighbors also hinted at mental illness.
Paul Gold, 45, who lived next door to the family from 2009-2010 told the New York Times that Cruz ‘had emotional problems’ and may have been ‘diagnosed with autism’.
He said he knows that Cruz was sent to a school for students with special needs at one point.
‘He had trouble controlling his temper. He broke things. He would do that sometimes at our house when he lost his temper. But he was always very apologetic afterwards,’ Gold said.
If he was suffering depression, the loss of his mother or getting kicked out of school could have triggered Cruz to snap and carry out the killing. Lynda is pictured above with out of her two sons above
Amanda Samaroo, whose daughter attended school with Cruz for a time, said her daughter’s friends ‘have said he was known to always be mentally ill and would kill animals’.
In November, Cruz’s adoptive mother died of penumonia, leaving him orphaned. Soon after her death, he moved in with a friend’s family, who say he appeared to be depressed.
MEDICATIONS THAT HAVE THE SIDE EFFECT OF ‘HOMICIDAL IDEATION’
XANAX – used to treat anxiety and panic disorders
ABILIFY – used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and Tourette syndrome. It can also treat irritability associated with autism.
PAXIL – used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
ALPHRAZOLAM – used to treat anxiety and panic disorder
PAROXETINE – used to treat depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
ARIPIPRAZOLE – used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and Tourette syndrome. It can also treat irritability associated with autism.
If he truly was depressed, it’s possibly the loss of his mother, or his expulsion from school, could have set him off.
Dr Alan J. Lipman, an expert in the psychology of violence at George Washington Medical Center told CNBC that that mass killers typically fall into three categories: a psychotic individual, a sociopath or psychopath and a young male between the ages of 16 and 25 who is depressed and has a fascination with violence.
The third category seems to check a lot of boxes for Cruz, who frequently posted pictures of his weapons collection and mutilated animals to Instagram.
Lipman said that the mass killers that are in this category usually are undiagnosed or untreated for their depression.
Citing reports that Cruz had been in mental health therapy, Lipman said that if he continued treated ‘it’s more than likely this would never have happened.’
For depressed shooters, Lipman said there’s usually a triggering event that causes them to break.
‘This person, who already sees their life as having no value, now feels it’s even more worthless, and they look to express their rage in the most violent way possible,’ Lipman said.
Those who knew the family say the loss of Cruz’s mother would have been difficult, since she was the only one close to him.
‘His mother was his entire life and when he lost her, I believe that was it for the boy’s peace of mind,’ Gold said.
‘Who’s not going to be depressed?’ Jim Lewis, the attorney for the family who took Cruz in, said. ‘You’re 19 years old. Your father’s been dead 12 years. The mother’s the one who raised you and all that you’ve basically got in the world in terms of grounding you. And all of sudden she dies of pneumonia.’
While Cruz’s mental health remains a bit of a mystery now, it won’t be for long.
His defense team have already told reporters that they’re working to get his medical records and may have Cruz undergo a psychological evaluation. Since his arrest Wednesday afternoon, Cruz has not been given any kind of medication for mental health issues.
His defense attorneys painted Cruz as a victim himself, of a broken system that should have gotten him the help he needs.
‘He is a deeply troubled young man; a child that has endured significant loss,’ Gordon Weekes, chief assistant for Broward County’s public defender’s office, told reporters Thursday. ‘He fell between the cracks and we have to try to save him now.’
As he was arraigned on Thursday, one of his attorneys, Melisa McNeill, comforted Cruz by putting an arm around his shoulder.
She told reporters after the hearing: ‘When your brain is not fully developed, you don’t know how to deal with these things. That’s the child I’m sitting across from.’
If he is indeed deemed mentally ill, prosecutors will not be allowed to ask for the death penalty in his case.
Howard Finkelstein, the chief public defender in Broward County, appeared confident that Cruz is mentally ill in an interview with the New York Times.
‘Every red flag was there and nobody did anything,’ Finkelstein said. ‘When we let one of our children fall off grid, when they are screaming for help in every way, do we have the right to kill them when we could have stopped it?’