Social worker: Parkland school shooter described as ‘menace to society’ in middle school

Ex-Henderson Mental Health case manager says Parkland school shooter, brother were abusive to mother

The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter in Broward County court listened to more witness testimony on Friday from the defense — including from a social worker who reported a classmate’s parent described him as a “menace to society.”

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The jurors who will be deciding the fate of the Parkland school shooter in Broward County court listened to three more defense witnesses on Friday — including a social worker who reported a classmate’s parent described him as a “menace to society” — while his mother said he was a “gentle soul.”

Capital defense attorney Casey Secor called Tiffany Forrest, who met Nikolas and Zachary Cruz and their adoptive mother Lynda Cruz in 2013. She said she managed their case for about five months for Henderson Behavioral Health and said she visited their Parkland home regularly to check on them.

Forrest said Lynda Cruz told her Zachary bullied Nikolas and manipulated him into shoplifting. She said that while at their home Lynda Cruz showed her the consequences of her sons’ rage: A broken door, a broken television, holes in the wall, cut’s to the couch, and a parked van’s broken window.

“There was quite a bit of dysfunction ... chaotic at times,” Forrest said later adding that she was concerned about how “verbally abusive” the boys were to Lynda Cruz.

Forrest and the other two witnesses focused on their records of Nikolas Cruz’s behavioral problems as a teenage boy in eighth grade at Westglades Middle School and at his home in Parkland.

Tiffany Forrest testified about her interactions with the Cruz family while she worked for Henderson Behavioral Health on Friday in Broward County court in Fort Lauderdale. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Forrest said Lynda Cruz told her she couldn’t afford to pay for the additional mental health services the family needed and walked around with her purse all the time, and she even slept with it, because she feared the boys would steal from her. Forrest also said that she wasn’t surprised when she learned about Nikolas Cruz’s problems at school, including getting suspended for breaking a window, stealing bicycles, and not meeting academic expectations.

“Sometimes you really didn’t understand what he was saying,” Forrest said about Nikolas Cruz’s communication skills.

Forrest also learned that Nikolas Cruz really valued his Xbox, so Lynda Cruz often took it away to discipline him, and that would make him blow up. Forrest also said that although Lynda Cruz believed other students were bullying Nikolas Cruz even when the reports from the school indicated the contrary.

Forrest said there was a report noting that Cruz was “purposefully hitting other students” in the hallways of Westglades Middle School.

Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Jeffrey Smith testifies on Friday in Fort Lauderdale. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

Assistant Public Defender Nawal Najet Bashimam called Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective Jeffrey Smith to testify about his response on Nov. 12, 2011; Sept. 26, 2012; Nov. 27, 2012; and May 7, 2014, to Lynda Cruz’s home, at 6166 NW 80th Ter., in Parkland.

Smith described Lynda Cruz as “a single mother, always struck me as overwhelmed and ill-prepared to handle the everyday stress of these two boys.”

During the 2011 call, Lynda Cruz reported her 11-year-old son hit her and was banging on the wall and hitting furniture with a bat. During the September 2012 call, she reported her son was throwing things around. During the November 2012 call, she reported her son used a plastic hose from a vacuum cleaner to hit her. During the 2014 call, Henderson Behavioral reported a domestic disturbance.

Smith said he never made an arrest at their home. He said Lynda Cruz told him both of her sons were under psychiatric treatment.

Najet Bashimam also called Liliana Pardo-Posse, a Broward County schools social worker, to testify. She said she learned about Nikolas Cruz’s behavior at Westglade Middle School when he was in eighth grade. She said Lynda Cruz told her “something is very wrong with him” and the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder didn’t explain his behavior.

Liliana Pardo-Posse, a Broward County schools social worker, testifies via Zoom on Friday. (Copyright 2022 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.)

“He needs to be properly diagnosed,” Lynda Cruz said, according to Pardo-Posse

Pardo-Posse said that during her assessment of Nikolas Cruz his mother, Lynda Cruz, told her he didn’t like law enforcement and reading or doing homework. She also told her he would get especially angry when he lost a video game while playing Xbox with others online. She described him as a “loving kid,” “a gentle soul,” “a mama’s boy,” and a “sore loser” who can’t control his temper.

“He can’t stand to lose, gets angry, and curses at people playing with him,” Lynda Cruz said, according to Pardo-Posse’s report.

Lynda Cruz told Pardo-Posse that she can tell when the destructive behavior is going to happen because she can hear him cursing. She also told Pardo-Posse that she takes away the Xbox from him as punishment and that sets him off. Pardo-Posse said she never met with Nikolas Cruz during the assessment process.

Pardo-Posse’s report also cited a parent who complained about Nikolas Cruz hurting classmates at Westglades Middle School and described him as a “menace to society.” Pardo-Posse said Nikolas Cruz was accepted to Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach and transferred out of Westglades Middle School.

On Thursday, Carrie Yon, a teacher who met Nikolas Cruz as an eighth-grade Westglades Middle School student in her language arts classroom, and John Vesey, the former Westglades principal, testified. Yon described him as an attention-seeking bully and Versey said he left a trail of “disgusting vulgarities.”

CASE STATUS

Also on Thursday, Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill filed a motion for a mistrial and warned she was preparing to file a motion to prevent the state from seeking the death penalty after reporting alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer denied the motion for mistrial and said the other motion could be handled next week.

McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 to attribute the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland to Cruz being “damaged.” She later said the defense team had over 80 witnesses.

The defense has presented 24 witnesses in nine days, including Cruz’s biological half-sister and a recovering addict who was arrested with his biological mother for cocaine possession when she was pregnant with Cruz. The defense also called two psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist who treated Cruz for ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.

During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that Cruz’s mental health disorders and developmental delays were not “severe enough” to explain why at 19 he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s 1200 building with a loaded AR-15 to kill.

In October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

The prosecutors who are seeking the death penalty rested their case on Aug. 4, after calling 91 witnesses in 12 days, including the 17 survivors injured and the loved ones of the 17 killed who read victim impact statements.

The defense needs only one of the 12 jurors to oppose the death sentence. Without a unanimous jury vote, Cruz will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Scherer said the court was in recess shortly before 5:15 p.m., on Friday. Jurors are scheduled to return to court at 9 a.m., on Sept. 12.

Watch the 12 p.m. report

Capital defense attorney Casey Secor called Tiffany Forrest, who met Nikolas and Zachary Cruz and his adoptive mother Lynda Cruz in 2013 while she managed their case for about five months for Henderson Behavioral Health.

LEGAL TERMS: Aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances

Aggravating: Increases the severity or culpability of a criminal act and leads to harsher punishment. The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty focuses on evidence to support this.

Mitigating: Lessens the severity or culpability of a criminal act. The defense team that is working to save Cruz’s life is presenting evidence to support this.

  • Mitigation specialist: A member of the defense team whose task is to persuade a jury not to impose the death penalty.

Prejudicial: The term is used to describe evidence with the potential of causing the jury to develop an unfair bias against Cruz.

Source: Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

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About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.