PARKLAND, Florida — Three students who knew the suspected high school shooter told BuzzFeed News they reported him to school administrators for erratic behavior and threatening them after an ex-girlfriend broke up with him and began seeing another teenager.
Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2017 for what the local sheriff called “disciplinary reasons.” Some reports say he was kicked out for carrying a knife to school. Other reports say he was expelled after he got into a fight with the new boyfriend of an ex.
The students who spoke to BuzzFeed News — Dana Craig, 16; her boyfriend, Matthew Rosario, 16; and Enea Sabadini, 17 — said that such a fight happened, and that it was the culmination of a jealous and angry period for Cruz because Enea began dating Cruz’s ex-girlfriend. Three other friends who asked BuzzFeed News not to use their names, for privacy reasons, confirmed their accounts.
"Im going to watch ypu bleed," read an Instagram message sent under Cruz's name to Enea in 2017, when students said Cruz was no longer at the school. "iam going to shoot you dead." Another message said Enea "stole my ex."
The FBI said it received and botched tips about Cruz’s threats of school violence. The Broward County Sheriff said his office received about 20 calls regarding Cruz over the years, and Cruz’s social media history shows an obsession with weapons and violence.
What bothered Enea was President Trump’s admonishment of the victims right after the attack. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” Trump tweeted.
“Personally, I don’t think he should say that. [Trump] doesn’t know the whole story,” Enea told BuzzFeed News. “We tried.”
The Broward County School District and Cruz’s public defender, Gordon Weekes, didn’t respond to requests for comment. “He’s sad. He’s mournful. He’s remorseful,” Melissa McNeill, another public attorney for Cruz, said earlier in the week about the shooting. She added, "the child is deeply troubled and he has endured significant trauma that stems from the loss of his mother.” Cruz told police he was the shooter.
Dana was friendly with Cruz because her ex-boyfriend, who declined an interview with BuzzFeed News, was close to him. And for several months Cruz dated Dana’s friend who went to a different school. Cruz was obsessed with her, Dana said.
Still, Dana said she was wary of Cruz, because “he had guns and weapons and we all knew about it.” And when the friend told Dana that her relationship with Cruz was abusive, Dana told the friend to break up with him. The friend, who declined to comment to BuzzFeed News through an intermediary, ended the relationship. The New York Post reported Cruz then threatened and harassed her.
After this, in April 2016, Dana said she started getting threats over direct messages from Cruz’s ex-girlfriend’s Instagram account. Dana said Cruz had access to the account and that the messages read as though he was sending them.
“I’m going to get you and I’m going to kill you because you took this person away from me. I’m going to kill your family,” Dana remembered the messages saying. Dana no longer has the messages because they were removed using Instagram’s “unsend” direct message function. Two classmates and one adult — who didn’t want her name used because she didn’t want to get in trouble with her job — told BuzzFeed News that Dana told them about the troubling messages at the time.
Not long after, Dana said she went to Kelvin Greenleaf, at the time a security specialist at Marjory Douglas Stoneman high school who the students knew as the head of security, to tell him about the threats and show him the messages. Cruz was later expelled. A phone number connected to Greenleaf and the call gate number outside his home were disconnected, and he didn’t respond to a note left at his home.
Dana’s mom, Martha Garvey, said her daughter told her at the time that she was being threatened and that Dana reported it to the school’s head of security. “She did tell me that [Cruz] threatened her and her family,” she said.
The mom also said that Dana wasn’t fully forthcoming about what was going on at the time. “Because we thought, oh, we’re going to take care of it,” Dana said. “We’re going to be fine. Why worry parents?”
Shortly after the breakup, around August 2016, Enea told BuzzFeed News he began speaking to Cruz’s ex-girlfriend. “Just as friends,” Enea told BuzzFeed News, though they later started dating. “He got upset about that and started sending messages to me on Instagram.”
The messages, he said, came from a handle that included the name Nikolas Cruz. They were persistent, he said, with Cruz saying he would beat him up and demanding that he stop talking to his ex-girlfriend. Enea said he no longer has these messages because he deleted them after Cruz was expelled in 2017. “I thought there was no use to keep them anymore,” he said.
In the first week of the new school year, Enea said Cruz apologized to him in person. Cruz “said ‘you could have [her],’” according to Matthew, who said he was present when this happened.
But Enea said the messages resumed, at first from Cruz’s ex-girlfriend’s Instagram account — similar to what happened with Dana.
The messages were mostly “along the lines, I’m going to beat you up and everything,” Enea said. Dana and another friend told BuzzFeed News they knew about the messages at the time, and the friend encouraged Enea and Dana to report them to the school.
Dana and Enea told BuzzFeed News that they filed written reports about the threats to Greenleaf. They don’t have copies of what they submitted.
Enea also said that he spoke to the head of JROTC at the school, Peter Mahmood, about what was happening with Cruz. Mahmood did not respond to messages from BuzzFeed News.
Also in September 2016, Enea told BuzzFeed News, he had two fights with Cruz within weeks of each other.
The first fight began as an argument on the sidewalk next to their school. Nikolas yelled “Stop talking to her!” Enea said. Enea said he responded: “No, I’m not going to stop talking to her.” Matthew said he witnessed this fight.
Enea said Cruz ran at him. “While he was chasing me down the street, he also called me a nigger multiple times,” Enea said. “He was also trying to stab me with pencils.” Cruz couldn’t catch him, and Enea said he taunted him. “I remember telling him that I was a gazelle, because I was much faster than him,” he said.
Enea also said he doesn’t think Cruz disliked him because of his race. “I don’t think he was mad at me about race. But I don’t get why he was so mad over a girl,” he said.
The second fight — the one being vaguely referenced in media reports — was during lunch in the courtyard in late September 2016.
“My friends and I were laughing. Talking to each other, laughing and everything, and as we’re talking a water bottle flies by. I remember it going right between my legs,” Enea said. Then Cruz “charges me and hits me in my left arm.”
Enea, a rugby player, said he grabbed Cruz, slammed him to the ground, and started punching him in the face. “I was just done. I can’t believe you actually decided to fight me during lunch. I really don’t want to have any problems with this guy. Can we just get over the situation already?”
That fight earned both of them suspensions, Enea said. His mom, he said, was mad he was suspended “for defending himself.”
Matthew, Dana, and two of their friends who witnessed the fight confirmed the details to BuzzFeed News. Matthew, Dana, and one of the witnesses said they complained about it to administrators. “I remember when the fight happened, I went and I said, ‘I know that he’s brought weapons to school. You need to take his bag. You need to check it,’” Dana said.
Matthew said that he was called in to discuss Cruz “overall” with Greenleaf about a week after he filed a report about the fight.
Matthew said Cruz whispered threats to him in his fifth-period engineering class. “I turned around. He would be staring, or I don’t know how to explain it, whispering threats,” Matthew said.
“It would be like: ‘I hate you,’ and ‘I’ll kill you,’ he said.
After the suspensions, Cruz “kept his distance,” Enea said, adding, “I was a bit relieved.” Though, “still from a distance he would give me the middle finger.”
Enea, Dana, and Matthew said they don’t ultimately know why or precisely when Cruz was expelled in 2017.
By December 2016, Enea said he and Cruz’s ex-girlfriend had stopped dating.
But in August 2017, about a year after everything began, Enea again received intensely threatening messages from a now-removed Instagram account @nikolasjacobcruz — which he believes belonged to Cruz.
The messages to Enea said, "I am going to enjoy seeing you down on the grass," "Im going to watch ypu bleed," "iam going to shoot you dead," and included a photo of guns.
Messages also said Enea "stole my ex" and named the ex girlfriend, saying that she "mean everything to me."
Two other Instagram accounts, @NikolasCruzMakarov and @cruz_nikolas, belonged to the shooter and were removed by the platform. Instagram did not immediately respond to a question about whether or not @nikolasjacobcruz was removed for the same reason.
Enea provided screenshots of the messages to BuzzFeed News. Dana remembers Enea telling her about the DMs, at the time he received them. Enea said it didn’t concern him, because Cruz had been expelled by this point. “I was like, I don’t have anything to worry about,” he said.
Enea responded to the threats with memes.
About six months after these messages, on Valentine’s Day, Cruz allegedly returned to his former high school and opened fire.
Remy Smidt is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Remy Smidt at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.