On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 - Valentines Day - a day most known for people expressing their love for one another, a gunman by the name of Nikolas Cruz entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, from which he had been expelled for behavioral problems, with an AR-15 rifle and killed 17 people in what is now being referred to as "the worst school shooting since Sandy Hook".
Amidst all of the news and posts of people calling for peace and prayers for the victims and their families are the cries of people once again calling for stricter gun laws and a ban on guns. I'll admit, my first thoughts were the same. I mean, how many school shootings are we going to have to see before we bring actual change to this country? How many people need to die in school shootings before we decide we have a very serious problem? Maybe if we ban guns then we will have fewer school shootings?
However, as I began to read through news articles and do some research on my own, I began to see a variety of red flags and warning signs pop up all over the place. None of these really had to do with gun laws, but more to do with how broken our mental health system is.
19- year old Nikolas Cruz ,who lost his adoptive father back in 2004 due to a heart attack, and his adoptive mother due to pneumonia back in November 2017, has been described as being, "lonely and depressed" by James and Kimberly Snead, whom he was staying, although, the Snead's have stated that they saw no "red flags" in Cruz's behavior. Meanwhile others have described Cruz as being a "troubled kid".
Before Cruz even attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School - from which he was eventually expelled due to disciplinary issues - he had been attending Cross Creek School in Pompano Beach, Florida. Cross Creek School is a school for emotionally and behaviorally disabled students. Cruz attended Cross Creek School from early 2014 until January 2016 when he then transferred to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
While attending Cross Creek School Cruz was taking unspecified psychiatric medication, which he stopped taking once he transferred to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. School administrators at Cross Creek described him as being, "fascinated" by guns and having an obsession with guns and violence, and even becoming "distracted" by his peers whenever talk of guns or people being killed was mentioned. While attending Cross Creek, Cruz showed signs of progress. Despite his progress, he decided to transfer out and attend a "regular school". After he transferred to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Cruz's behavior deteriorated further. He faced several disciplinary actions for fighting and was eventually expelled.
On September 28, 2016, after Cruz posted a Snapchat video where he was cutting himself an investigator from the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) came to visit Cruz at home. The investigator from the DCF reported that Cruz was suffering from depression and had mentioned to his mother his intent to buy a gun. Despite this, a crisis counselor told the DCF investigator that he did not believe that Cruz was a significant danger to himself or others. The case was then closed.
After the death of his mother in November, Cruz and his younger brother, Zachary moved in with a family friend. Eventually though, Cruz was given an "ultimatum", by this friend and told he could not have guns in the house. In response. Cruz moved out and moved in with another friend who was living with his parents, James and Kimberly Snead. The Sneads allowed Cruz to retain his guns, but required that they be secured in a gun safe to which they believed only they had access. Unfortunately, this proved not to be true.
Until 14 months ago when he stopped showing up, Cruz was receiving mental health treatment from Henderson Behavioral Health. Despite all of his past emotional and behavioral issues, Cruz was still allowed to purchase seven guns within the last year through legal purchases, as well as obtaining three more guns illegally prior to the massacre. How was a 19-year old who has had more health problems and disciplinary problems during his educational experience than I can count on my fingers and toes allowed to purchase a gun?
One would think that Cruz's mental health history, would be more than enough to prevent him from purchasing a firearm. In reality, however, despite all of the warning signs about his mental health, when he went to purchase guns, the individuals from whom he purchased them knew nothing of his mental health problems and no information regarding these problems showed up on the mandatory background check.
Nikolas Cruz, who everyone regarded as being a "troubled kid", fell through the cracks of a broken mental health system. He didn't receive the help he needed despite all of the warning signs over the course of years; his deep emotional and behavioral issues, his depression and his posts on social media. Filled with violence, seeking refuge in firearms, alone in the world and telling everyone who would listen that he would be the next school shooter, he was allowed to spiral out of control until seventeen people lost their lives, many more were emotionally and physically traumatized and Cruz's own life was destroyed.
How many times are we going to allow this to happen? We don't need to ban guns. We need to fix our mental health system. We need to stop people who are a danger to themselves and others from buying firearms. We need to become proactive and step in to avert tragedies rather than simply reacting to them.
That means now.