Psychiatrist who treated Cruz says he never received school’s warning letter

Defense: 2014 letter shows Cross Creek School was aware of Cruz’s obsession with guns, killing

Dr. Brett J. Negin, who treated Nikolas Cruz from 2012 to 2017, testifies in Broward County court on Thursday in Fort Lauderdale. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Broward County Public Schools psychiatrist and therapist signed a two-page letter dated June 5, 2014, and addressed it to Dr. Brett J. Negin to warn him about one of his 15-year-old patients who would go on to commit mass murder.

Dr. Nyrma N. Ortiz, the psychiatrist, and Rona O’Connor Kelly, the school therapist, reported Lynda Cruz allowed them to write the letter about her son Nikolas Cruz, a student at Cross Creek School, which treats emotional behavioral disabilities.

“He has a preoccupation with guns and the military and perseverates on this topic inappropriately,” they wrote also warning that “he dreams of killing others and is covered in blood” and his mother feared he was armed with “a hatchet.”

On Thursday, Negin, the psychiatrist who treated Cruz from 2012 to 2017, sat feet away from him in Broward County court. Negin was a witness for the defense team that is working to persuade jurors to save the 23-year-old defendant’s life.

Negin asserted that he had never received that letter and that the first time he became aware of it was during a deposition. In the letter, Ortiz and O’Connor Kelly warned Negin that Cruz was “irritable and reactive,” “paranoid,” “defiant,” and “verbally aggressive in the classroom.” They also wrote Cruz was “destructive” and had damaged a television, walls, and furniture.

“He had a hatchet that he used to chop a dead tree in the backyard, but his mother reported she could no longer find it,” they wrote.

Negin said he last saw Cruz and his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, on Aug. 14, 2017. The consult was about three months before Lynda Cruz died of complications with pneumonia and about six months before Cruz used an AR-15 rifle during the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre.

Negin said he learned that Cruz was going to attend a local learning center while he worked as a cashier at a Dollar Tree. Before they left his office, Negin said he recommended that Cruz get treatment at Henderson Mental Health and make a follow-up appointment with him.

“I never heard from them after that office appointment,” Negin said.

Negin said he met Cruz when he was 13 years old and in sixth grade. He said that when he met with Lynda Cruz she indicated that Cruz had developmental delays, needed therapy for a speech delay, and had a “several-year history” of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Negin said Lynda Cruz also reported Cruz was taking two medications daily: 20 mg of Focalin XR, a stimulant with long-acting extended release, and .25 mg of Risperdal, a mood stabilizer. She also reported that Cruz had an individualized education plan.

“Her primary concerns were difficulty interacting with peers. That was probably one of her main concerns along with behaviors ... as well, as I would say, irritability,” Negin said.

Lynda Cruz reported Cruz had an individualized education plan. Negin said he wasn’t aware of Cruz’s problems at Westglades Middle School. To treat his ADHD, Negin said he increased the dosage of Risperdal to .5 mg due to ongoing “defiant behaviors” that Cruz was still exhibiting.

Negin also diagnosed Cruz with oppositional defiant disorder and he suspected autism spectrum disorder. On April 2012, during their second appointment, Lynda Cruz reported Cruz had stopped taking the Risperdal at night.

“She didn’t feel it was being effective,” Negin said.

To replace the Risperdal, Negin said he then prescribed Clonidine, a non-stimulant medication to help with the impulsiveness of ADHD, but to also allow Cruz to sleep better. On June 2012, Negin reported that Cruz was not suffering from delusions or hallucinations, and on August 2012 that he had a good appetite and better sleep pattern.

On Sept. 24, 2013, Negin said he wrote a letter supporting that he be “placed in a therapeutic residential setting.” That never happened.

In April 2014, Negin said he learned Cruz was a student at Cross Creek School, a grades K-12 center that serves the emotional behavioral disabilities student population of the northern half of Broward County. On Aug. 23, 2014, Negin said Cruz expressed an interest in going to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“Motivation to obtain something that’s a good thing for them,” Negin said.

Negin said that during the course of treatment he learned Cruz achieved his goal to be a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“He did express difficulty focusing,” Negin said about his consult with Cruz on Feb. 22, 2016.

Negin said he decided to increase Cruz’s ADHD medicine and transition him to a different formulation of Focalin that was slow-release. Negin said Cruz and his mother returned on Nov. 3, 2016. Cruz was having trouble at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

“She expressed that he had had some physical altercations with peers at the school and had some defiant behaviors in general,” Negin said.

Negin said Cruz “appeared” remorseful.

“Both expressed that they tried to do everything they could in terms of maximizing his ability to function better so he wouldn’t have to return to Cross Creek,” Negin said.

Cruz was inconsistent with his treatment. Nearly 10 months later, in August 2017, Cruz and his mother returned for a consult. Cruz had not been taking his medicine, Negin said.

During cross-examination on Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Jeff Marcus confronted Negin.

Marcus: “You are of course unaware that at this time, he is already considering being a mass shooter, you are not aware of that, are you?”

Negin: “No, I am not.”

Marcus: “Nothing about your mental status exam, your appointment with him, would have given you the knowledge that he was already exploring being a mass shooter, correct?”

Negin: “There is nothing in the record that would signify that whatsoever.”

The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence. Without a unanimous vote from the jury, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer will have no choice but to sentence Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder that he pleaded guilty to in October.

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About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.