On Valentines Day 2018, 14 school children and 3 teachers became victims. Victims, the government told us, of a mentally unstable student seeking revenge. While that may be true, this time the response has failed to cut it.
More accurately, these people became victims of the system. It was this system that allowed someone like Nikolas Cruz easy access to a semi-automatic rifle. It was this system, still reluctant to change, that betrayed 17 people and their loved ones.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the morning of February 14 was like any other. There had been a fire drill, but that was all.
At 2:19pm, an Uber dropped off former-pupil Nikolas Cruz at the school grounds. He entered the building and re-triggered the fire alarms, callously luring pupils out of their classrooms. It was there, according to Senator Bill Nelson, where ‘the carnage began’.
After shooting 31 people, he made his way to Subway and on to McDonalds, before being arrested by police at 3:40pm, 2 miles away in Coral Springs.
‘He is going to explode’
Cruz has a history of mental health issues that was widely ignored. He had shown a lack of stability and demonstrated his volatility on more than one occasion.
Adopted at birth, Cruz was diagnosed with developmental delays by the age of three. At six, he watched his father die of a heart attack while they played together in a den. Naturally all of this took its toll on Cruz, and records recall him having ‘depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, emotional behavioural disability and autism.’
He had behaved violently towards both his mother and brother, and 23 calls were made in 10 years to local authorities. Regardless of his actions, Cruz’s mother remained his best friend.
2017 seemed to be the year that changed it all.
In January, Cruz stopped his mental health treatment and assaulted a pupil at Stoneman Douglas. He was expelled, ending his ambition of staying in mainstream education. He was dealt a final blow later that year when he lost his mother to pneumonia.
Beyond all comprehension, concerns about the parentless 19-year-old were largely ignored.
Then, on the 5th of January 2018, transcripts from the FBI log an alarming phone call. A woman had contacted security services in panic, stating ‘I know he is going to explode’. Her reasoning included Cruz’s short temper, his ‘mental capacity of a 12 to 14-year-old’ and a worrying social media post that stated his desire to kill.
Alarmingly, the FBI admits passing off this remark, but that shouldn’t mean social media companies escape blame again.
An account entitled ‘nikolas cruz’, commented on a YouTube video, bragging that he was ‘going to be a professional school shooter’. Local media deny being aware of this post.
The real problem
Cruz was clearly a heated and imbalanced individual. When left alone however, heat is simply heat. If you add fuel to the equation, things become far more explosive. In this respect, the fuel was Cruz having access to a gun.
Despite all of the diagnoses on his mental health records and a wealth of concerns over his behaviour, Cruz legally purchased the firearm from a shopping centre in Coral Springs.
U.S. gun laws are the reason 17 people died on Valentine’s Day; Cruz’s mental health can only be a contributing factor. It is the ignorance and complacency of the system that endangered these innocent lives.
As after every school shooting, establishment Republicans turn a blind eye to the central problem. Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, has urged people not to rush to conclusions or politicise the debate in a time of mourning.
Well, it seems this time around their excuses won’t pass.
People are bored of hearing the same Republican rhetoric, attack after attack. Unsurprisingly, those most fed-up are the survivors of the shooting themselves, who are taking their case to Washington.
With a plethora of public denouncements like those by Emma Gonzalez, and a clever use of social media, students have formed the #NeverAgain movement.
Survivor Kai Koerber summarises his hope that people: ‘can come together, under one blanket and say enough is enough’. Koerber’s peer, Julia Salomone, says the group is lobbying for forced registration of all firearms and a longer waiting period on getting a gun. Alongside that, she importantly includes ‘a better-funded mental health system’.
The survivors at Stoneman Douglas are aiming their campaign straight at the system. Naturally, they will feel venom for Cruz, but it is clear that they recognise the wider problem; that thoughts alone can do little damage, but legally arming them with a deadly weapon results in travesty.
Nikolas Cruz was dangerously unstable. He was bitter, alone, and sought revenge for something beyond his control.
While his actions were callous and inexcusable, the wider picture is one of a failing system. A system of complacency and incompetence that continues to jeopardise the lives of innocent Americans.