FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A psychologist who treated Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz at age 8 testified Wednesday that Cruz was a “peculiar child” who had numerous behavioral and developmental issues , but his widowed mother seemed overwhelmed and wasn’t consistent in her discipline or treatment.
Frederick Kravitz said he began treating Cruz in 2007 on the recommendation of Cruz’s psychiatrist, with Lynda Cruz telling him that her adopted son suffered from anxiety and nervousness and had trouble controlling his temper. But she also said he was friendly and got along well with his peers – claims that a neighbour, preschool teachers and an elementary school special education counselor testified were not true.
Kravitz said that although he suggested weekly sessions for Cruz, his mother only brought him 15 times over a 13-month period, a decade before he murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.
He said it was a major issue – Lynda Cruz would agree that her son needed more consistent treatment and that she needed to be more consistent in her discipline towards him and his younger half-brother, Zachary, but did not follow up. She was 57, depressed by her husband’s sudden death in 2003 and caring for two “tumultuous” young children, he said.
They were screaming, throwing tantrums and breaking furniture, he said.
“They elevated it to art,” Kravitz said. “Nikolas was easily triggered and Zachary seemed to enjoy pushing Nikolas’ buttons.”
It would trigger their mother, something both boys seemed to enjoy.
“She often lost her temper and frequently backed down from the boys, which only made the problems worse,” he said. He said he tried to work with her, but she felt embarrassed by her sons’ behavior and felt like people were judging her.
Cruz’s attorneys are into day three of their defense, hoping to persuade his jury to sentence him to life without parole instead of death. Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder and the trial, which began July 18, is only to determine his sentence.
The defense is trying to overcome the prosecution’s case, which featured surveillance video of then-19-year-old Cruz mowing down students and staff with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle while stalking a three-story building for seven minutes, photos of the aftermath, and a jury visit to the building.
For Cruz to receive a death sentence, the jury must be unanimous. If a juror votes for life, that will be his sentence.
The defense focused on the mental and emotional issues that Cruz displayed from his earliest days. Testimonies showed that his biological mother was a street prostitute who abused cocaine and alcohol and that as a toddler he was developmentally delayed, often violent towards other children and teased and bullied for its small size, unusual appearance, and odd behavior. When he was 8, he acted like a 6-year-old at best, Kravitz said.
“He stuck out like a sore thumb,” he said.
Steven Schusler, who lived across from the Cruzes from 2009 to 2015, said when Nikolas Cruz was 10, his owner called him “the weirdo” Cruz in front, causing the boy to “cowl over” like a salted snail. He once saw Cruz running around the house with an air gun, his limbs flailing wildly – a move he demonstrated to the jury.
Kravitz said Cruz was afraid of being abandoned because of his father’s death and his adoption and had a “bad imagination” active.
“He was extremely scared that his mom would forget to pick him up (from school) and he would be stuck there,” Kravitz said, although that never happened.
He said Cruz showed signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder — for example, he always had to have exactly eight chicken nuggets.
He said he asked Cruz what his three wishes would be.
“Pokémon, a dog, and more Pokémon,” Kravitz said.
Lynda Cruz died in November 2017, about four months before the shooting.
Under cross-examination, Kravitz admitted that Cruz’s mother put him through additional psychiatric and psychological treatment and that she might have been reluctant to keep her son’s appointments with him because of the $87 per visit. his insurance demanded.
District Attorney Jeff Marcus asked Kravitz if there was anything about Cruz when he was 8 that indicated he would end up committing mass murder. He said no.
“I’ve worked with other very damaged kids, and to my knowledge, none of them have ever done this,” Kravitz said.
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