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Family That Took In Parkland Shooter Got Him Therapy, Defends Letting Him Keep AR-15

James Snead (right) and his wife Kimberly discussing their relationship with alleged Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz with reporters last weekend.
Susan Stocker
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After last week’s school shooting in Parkland that killed 17 people, a lot of focus has fallen on the home where the confessed shooter was living. WLRN spoke with the father of that family about the young man’s mental health issues – and about issues of gun ownership.

It’s still a mystery why Nikolas Cruz allegedly took his AR-15 assault rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last Wednesday and shot 32 people, killing 17 teens and adults. The 19-year-old was expelled from Douglas last year, and many who knew him say he was emotionally disturbed.

And he was likely more troubled after his mother died in November. (His father died 12 years ago.) Cruz’s recent social media history was full of menacing photos of himself with guns and knives. But the Parkland family that took Cruz in after his mother’s death say they were unaware of that.

“What everybody seems to know is what we didn’t know," said James Snead, the father of that family. "He was nothing but respectful.”

Snead, 48, a construction consultant, said they were also unaware that Florida’s Department of Children and Family Services had checked on Cruz’s erratic behavior in recent years. Speaking by phone from New York, Snead said just days before the school massacre he and his wife Kimberly, a nurse, had helped Cruz start therapy.

“I knew he had issues in the past. His mother passed away so we knew he was very depressed," said Snead. "My wife had actually taken him to see a therapist a week ago Friday. And ironically he was supposed to see a therapist this week.”

Cruz is a friend of Snead’s youngest son, also a Douglas High student. They met in Junior ROTC. Snead is an Army veteran who served in the First Gulf War. He said Cruz wanted to join the Army, and the family was also helping Cruz get his GED at a nearby off-campus adult learning center.

But for all the kindness the Sneads offered Cruz, they are under public scrutiny now for letting a young man with depression keep an assault rifle in their home, even if it was legally purchased. Snead insists the AR-15 was kept locked away – and he thought only he had the key to it.

"Part of the stipulations of Nick moving in was that he get some kind of gun safe locker, and he did," said Snead. "I don't know what caused him to do what he did. It's not the Nick I knew."

Snead supports gun ownership rights, and he argues letting Cruz keep the weapon was correct.

“It’s legal," Snead said. "You know, if you want an assault rifle you get an assault rifle. I’m not afraid of guns; I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. Do I think there needs to be a better background check system? Absolutely.”

But after last week, Snead’s stance on guns may be at odds with a growing number of people in his Parkland community – especially students at Douglas High, who will take their fledgling #NeverAgain gun-control movement to Tallhassee this week.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.