FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Parkland gunman had murder on his mind for about seven months before he went on a rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a Broward County detective testified Wednesday.
Nikolas Cruz searched for how to become a school shooter. He searched for a map to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He searched for how long it would take police to respond to a school shooting. And that was just in February 2018, the days leading up to the killing.
But as early as July 2017, he was already promising online to become a mass murderer. On July 4, 2017, he wrote, “it makes me happy to see people die :)”
He left YouTube comments like “When I turn 21, I am going to kill people,” “No mercy. No questions,” “I have no problem shooting a girl in the chest,” and “I love to see the familys (sic) suffer.”
The web search history, introduced in court Wednesday as part of his penalty phase trial, left family members of the victims aghast, shaking their heads and scowling.
Prosecutor Mike Satz said in opening statements last week that the evidence would dispel any notion that Cruz, now 23, acted impulsively when he committed 17 murders at the Parkland high school. And it undermines the idea that his mother’s death in November 2017 was a deciding factor in his plan, although one comment saying “It’s over ... my time is almost here ... hope I kill you all” was posted hours before she passed away.
Broward Sheriff’s Detective Nicholas Masters read off a list of search terms used by Cruz and recorded by his Gmail account. They included searches for information about mass shootings in Aurora, Las Vegas, Virginia Tech and Columbine. They included killers like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in Colorado and Elliot Rodger, the school shooter who killed six people in Isla Vista, California, in 2014.
“On the night of my massacre you are not forgotten Elliot, may you rip,” Cruz wrote.
Masters said Cruz created a YouTube account called AntifaKiller69 and used it to declare himself a mass murderer in 2017.
“I’m a mass murderer, with interesting thoughts of death and destruction,” he wrote on a YouTube comment on Oct. 23, 2017.
His internet search in the two weeks prior to the massacre show that he had chosen a site for his massacre. He searched for “Marjory Stoneman Douglas school hours,” “How long does it take for a cop to show up at a school shooting?” and “soft guitar case.” He would tell the Uber driver on his ride to Stoneman Douglas that he was carrying a musical instrument inside his large bag, the driver testified Monday.
Earlier on Wednesday, jurors heard from former Broward Medical Examiner Craig Mallak, who performed the autopsy on victim Cara Loughran. Jurors saw autopsy photos that showed entry wounds on her shoulder, chest and stomach.
The photos don’t show the kind of internal damage that’s done when a bullet fired from an AR-15-style rifle enters a body, Mallak said. “There’s so much energy to these bullets,” he said. Once inside, the bullet fragments, sending pieces in various directions. The damage, he said, is “devastating.”
Loughran died on the third-floor hallway, side by side with victim Meadow Pollack.
Jurors also heard from the deputy Cruz assaulted at the Broward Main Jail nine months after his arrest for the Stoneman Douglas shootings.
Video of the altercation, which was played in court and had previously been released to the public, is not especially graphic. It shows Cruz in his orange, jail-issued jumpsuit, exchanging words with Sgt. Raymond Beltran before rushing the deputy and taking his stun gun.
Prosecutors are asking jurors to consider the incident while deciding whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison. The struggle between Cruz and Beltran lasted less than a minute on Nov. 13, 2018, and the stun gun was fired. No one was hit, but Beltran said he was worried.
“He could tase me, he could incapacitate me. I was fighting to get my taser back,” said Beltran.
Beltran ultimately subdued Cruz and no one was seriously hurt.
Cruz was set to go on trial for that assault in October when he and his defense team apparently shifted their strategy, choosing to plead guilty not only to the jail battery, but to the murders and attempted murders as well.
The jail case carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, but in light of the Parkland high school massacre, it will not have any real effect on Cruz’s punishment unless jurors decide it weighs in favor of imposing the death penalty.
So far defense lawyers have declined to cross-examine most witnesses, asking only a handful of questions to clarify legal issues or set the stage for the defense case. For example, when the merchant who sold the rifle to Cruz testified, defense lawyers got him to explain to the jury that the sale would have been illegal today. Cruz was 18 when he bought the gun. After the Parkland shooting, state law was changed to raise the age limit to 21.
With Beltran, the defense attorneys wanted to ask questions about an apparent reckless driving incident in Washington state. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruled that the incident was not relevant to the jail assault and did not reflect poorly on Beltran’s honesty, so the jury never heard the questions.
Instead, Assistant Public Defender David Wheeler got Beltran to say he did not seek medical attention after the incident and that he was placed on administrative duty for more than two years afterward. At the time, defense lawyers tried to block Beltran from guarding Cruz, but as a matter of policy, the Sheriff’s Office never prohibited Beltran from doing so.
Prohibiting Beltran from guarding Cruz would have invited further assaults against jail deputies, lawyers for the Broward Sheriff’s Office said.
Testimony continued Wednesday with deputies testifying about the recovery of the defendant’s cellphone from the crime scene. When the trial opened, Satz told jurors about chilling videos Cruz recorded on that phone three days before the shooting. Cruz is seen excitedly discussing his shooting plans.
“It’s gonna be a biiiig event,” he said. “When you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am.”
The cellphone also contains the keys to the gunman’s social media history, which revealed his fascination with guns and his contempt for various religious and ethnic groups.
(Staff writer Natalia Galicza contributed to this report.)