FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. –
Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz struggled academically and behaviourally in middle school, laughing uncontrollably and blurting out inappropriate comments in class, destroying a bathroom sink and getting low grades, a former counsellor testified Tuesday at his penalty trial for massacring 17 people.
Jessica Clark Flournoy, who worked with special education students, testified that when she initially met with Cruz in sixth grade at Westglades Middle School in 2011, he tried hard to get good grades, behave and make friends but he struggled. Cruz, who was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, had trouble focusing and staying organized, she said.
Flournoy said Cruz was extremely anxious — something elementary teachers also said in earlier testimony — and feared other students would discover he was doing poorly. She said when teachers returned homework and tests, he would quickly stuff the papers into his backpack without looking so no one else would see. He was embarrassed to raise his hand to get help, so Flournoy and his teachers devised a system where he would place a blue note card on his desk when he needed assistance.
“He did not have a lot of self-confidence in his abilities to do well,” said Flournoy, who worked with him for 30 to 45 minutes per week. She said that weighed on him. “He was sad about that.”
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to murdering 14 students and three staff members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. The seven-man, five-woman jury will decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole. They must be unanimous to impose a death sentence.
His public defenders are in their second week of presenting testimony about Cruz’s troubled life as they try to show that from his birth to a crack-addicted, hard drinking prostitute who put him up for adoption through his childhood he had emotional and psychological problems that were never adequately addressed.
They are trying to overcome the emotional, gruesome and graphic evidence and testimony the prosecution presented over three weeks as it laid out the killings and his planning.
Flournoy, who did not want to testify but was subpoenaed by Cruz’s attorneys, said that by eighth grade Cruz had such behavioral problems, such as breaking the bathroom sink, that he was being escorted to his classes and at lunch. She believed he was trying to get kicked out of Westglades and sent to a school for students with discipline problems.
She said it eventually became evident to her that Westglades was not the appropriate school for Cruz because administrators and teachers had applied all their resources to help him, but nothing really worked.
Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro in Miami contributed to this report.