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Baby Health in Winter Dangerous kids threaten lives of teachers and classmates – Sun Sentinel

Baby Health in Winter

The teen’s text messages weren’t about a party or music or tests. They were about death. And murder.

“I actually wanted to be a school shooter,” the 17-year-old boy confided to a classmate in Winter Haven, in central Florida. “I just wanted to hurt other people like they did to me. … I actually had the damn weapon in school.”

The two commiserated about being depressed and bullied. He said he had nothing to lose and plotted to shoot classmates during their lunch hour. He ultimately was arrested.

“I need help,” he told his classmate. “I’m messed up in the brain.”

The words were straightforward, simple and harrowing. And surprisingly common.

Florida’s schools are filled with young people slinging murderous threats at classmates and teachers. Although some threats are the idle words of indiscreet adolescents, a disturbing number come from mentally impaired children who are fixated on violence and have access to guns, the South Florida Sun Sentinel found.

In an eight-month investigation, the Sun Sentinel examined the question that has weighed on parents since a disturbed teenager killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018: How many other children like the shooter are walking the halls of our schools?

A frightening number, the newspaper found.

The Sun Sentinel pored over court cases in 10 major Florida counties, from Miami to the Panhandle, and found more than 100 tormented youths, most of them threatening to murder teachers or fellow students.

Baby Health in Winter Florida’s anguished children

From Miami to the Panhandle, authorities have gone to court to keep guns away from troubled children. Together, the cases illustrate the depth of mental illness and despair raging through today’s young people. Here are some of their stories.

Warning: This presentation describes dozens of disturbing events and may be upsetting.

At a private school in Jacksonville, two boys, ages 15 and 18, were arrested, accused of plotting a school attack after they were disciplined for smoking marijuana. They were accused of using a hidden part of the Internet – the Dark Web – to research the proposed napalm bombing and shooting. One allegedly had a copy of the “Anarchist Cookbook,” a bomb-making manual. At one of the homes, police found two rifles and ammunition. The boys were expelled and put on probation.

See the list of weapons police removed from the student’s home.

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A 16-year-old in Polk County in central Florida posted pictures online showing him in a gas mask and artillery vest, holding an AR-15. He had an arsenal at his disposal. His father surrendered 18 weapons to police. Classmates heard the boy saying he was not afraid to shoot up the school, a school deputy reported. He “brags about having bombs at his residence,” a student claimed.

See a photo the student posted on social media.

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A mentally ill 12-year-old was expelled from a private school in Broward County for threatening students. He had opened the car door to jump out while it was moving and threatened to jump off an 11th floor balcony. He posted on Snapchat with a gun and a threat against “the people who snitched on me.” In the home, his father had at least six guns: three handguns, two assault rifles and a shotgun, plus lots of ammunition. The guns were surrendered to police under the terms of a 2018 risk protection order.

See the list of weapons police removed from the student’s home.

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A 15-year-old foster child with no adult legal guardian was living in an institutional facility when he threatened, shortly after the Parkland shooting, to “shoot up the school” he attends in Miami-Dade County and put his enemies “in a black body bag.” The young man had been diagnosed with conduct disorder and bipolar disorder with psychotic features. He was described by a doctor as “distrustful to the point of paranoia” and brought ammunition to school one day. He posed on social media holding a gun. A risk protection order was approved by a judge in 2018, preventing him from legally possessing a gun for a year.

See a post the student made on social media.

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A 17-year-old Oviedo teen told a girl on social media not to go to school the next day because he was going to “punish the people who messed with me” and shot himself with a BB gun in a video. He told authorities he has been joking about school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and could relate to school shooters. The girl’s mother said she was going to enroll her daughter in an online school because of him. A teacher at his school also raised an alert over his postings with guns and Nazi references. He was arrested.

Watch police confront the student after the threat.

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A 15-year-old student in Davie was arrested after posting a threat on the Discord gaming app. The message read: “I want to shoot up a school. This is a genuine feeling. I want people to suffer. I want to step on and or over their bloodied corpses and hear the squelching of their wounds forcing out that last bit of blood. Then, blow their heads off to make sure they’re dead. I wish to see those I haven’t shot shake in fear and scream and cry at such a heinous act. Then, see the shock on their faces once I’ve shot them too.” He said he was just expressing an emotion.

See the post the student made on social media.

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Friends heard a 19-year-old from Boynton Beach say he wanted to “purge the Cove,” referring to shooting up the Covenant House, a shelter for runaways. “The Purge” is a series of horror movies depicting a 12-hour period each year in which all crime, including murder, is legal. The teen told police he suffered from schizophrenia and couldn’t stop thinking about killing people and that he was saving money to buy an AK-47. He was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018, barring him from buying or possessing guns.

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At a charter school in central Florida, police found a boy, 14, had a Smith and Wesson .380 in his backpack and a loaded magazine in his pocket. He told police he stole the gun from his grandpa and tried to give it to his brother but “his mother and older brother are convicted felons and cannot have firearms,” according to a police affidavit. The mother gave the gun back to the boy and told him to hide it. The child had been hospitalized in the past “for trying to cut up his wrist.” Police arrested him for bringing a gun to school.

See a recount of the incident according to police.

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A 17-year-old student in Jacksonville was suspended for five days after threatening a classmate. In his phone, he had a photo of Nikolas Cruz and called him a “legend” because he had “17 kills.” Authorities said his face “lit up with admiration” on hearing Cruz’s name. The teen had ADHD and anger issues, according to his mother. Police seized ammunition and a gun magazine and holster from under his bed. A 2018 risk protection order banned him from buying or possessing a weapon for a year.

See a witness statement about the student.

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A 16-year-old attending a Miami-Dade alternative school threatened teachers, other students and himself. At home, he had access to a shotgun, handgun and ammunition. He brought a .40-caliber bullet to school in his shoe. A doctor evaluated him and found “homicidal ideations” for a school shooting. He was detained under the Baker Act.

See a physician’s statement about the student.

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At just 13, one Jacksonville elementary student with a string of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, had hit his mother and threatened to kill classmates. He was suspended after calling a teacher at home and telling her boyfriend he’d “beat his ass” and that he “had shooters on standby.” His mother told authorities she wasn’t afraid of him but believed he would kill someone eventually. In the past, he was suicidal and told police he tried to strangle himself with a phone charging cord. He was taken for psychiatric evaluation under Florida’s Baker Act.

See a witness statement about the student.

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Parents and school officials called police when an 18-year-old with ADHD told students at his Christian school in Duval County not to go to school on a specific date. The teen was mad at two teachers and had stopped going to school a week before the threat. He told police he was just joking but “I would have shot up no one in particular, just everyone.” He had two rifles and two shotguns in a closet at home. He surrendered the guns to police.

See a witness statement about the student.

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A 19-year-old high schooler in Hillsborough County got angry when students asked if he was the person seen that day at a city building brandishing a BB gun. He posted a general threat on Instagram, under his screen name, which included the name “Lucifer” in it. A judge approved a risk protection order in 2018 to keep him from having a gun and ordered a mental health evaluation.

See a witness statement about the student.

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Two middle schoolers in Miami-Dade, ages 12 and 13, threatened a teacher on Instagram from an account with the handle “Southwood School Shooter.” “You and your children are next on valentine day,” it said. “I’m finna kill all yo family and shoot up yo bitch ass school.” The boys were arrested.

See the message with the threat from the student.

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In Oakland Park, a teen posted a photo of himself with two handguns pointed at the camera with the words: “I love my guns, can’t wait to try them out.” The post included three happy face emojis with heart eyes. He told a therapist he was close to killing his mom during a fight. She found a butcher knife under his mattress. He was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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A 15-year-old charter school student in Miami-Dade County threatened a school shooting with a specific student to be shot first. The boy plays shooter video games, including a hacker/slasher game. He said his threat was a dark joke. A risk protection order was imposed in 2018, barring him from possessing a gun for a year.

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State police put a 19-year-old in Coral Springs under surveillance after he threatened “to do a school shooting” in a post on Omegle.com, a chat site for strangers. The mentally ill teen identified a private school in another state, where he had been kicked out for being “unstable, super defiant and disrespectful,” a police affidavit states.

See the police report

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A 18-year-old in Coral Springs became irate during a college entrance exam in April 2019. He pushed over chairs, kicked a garbage can, slammed a gate and shouted that he would “come back and shoot up the school and kill everyone.” Earlier in the year, police had arrested him for battering his dad.

See a recount of the student’s threat.

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A Polk County girl, 13, living in a “safe house” in state custody, threatened to shoot up her school on a teacher workday. She’d previously lived in Broward County and had arrests for grand theft, assault and battery.

See a recount of the student’s threat from a classmate.

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Upset at her former boyfriend and his new girlfriend, an 18-year-old North Lauderdale girl wrote on Instagram: “I’ll shoot up yall school” followed by “Play with it.” She was arrested and sentenced to 36 months’ probation.

See a post the student made on social media.

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After getting out of jail, a 19-year-old in Coral Springs posted pictures of himself with his father’s guns, including an AR-15, on Instagram under the account “actuallythegrimreaper,” violating a risk protection order. Nearly three years earlier, in 2016, police had found him with a loaded handgun inside a high school. He told a judge he was diagnosed as bipolar and depressed.

See a portion of the police report.

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An administrator at a Pembroke Pines charter school called police after a girl, age 16, posted messages on Tumblr that she and a friend “have a thing for school shootings and always joke about doing one.” The girl wrote that she hoped her mom blames herself “when I go crazy and do something drastic.”

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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A Broward County eighth grader threatened to kill half his school, shouting in class: “I’m going to cause the next 9-11,” referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001. Police discovered he had thought of how to kill himself, kept a notebook with a countdown to death day and worried he had multiple personalities.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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In March 2018, about a month after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, police arrested a 16-year-old Parkland youth posting photos on Snapchat showing a handgun in the waistband of his pants and a second showing bullets with a caption targeting another student who has “light skin where’s Gucci glasses and jeans that look like a 4 year old draw on them.” Authorities hospitalized the teen for self-inflicted cuts on his arm.

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In a fifth-period class, a 14-year-old boy in central Florida pulled a large, rusted “throwing” knife from his bag and showed his classmates. When asked why he brought it, he told another student: “When I shoot up the school, you will be the first to go.” Police arrested him.

See a photo of the weapon.

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“One day I will come and shoot the school,” a 12-year-old boy in central Florida said while sitting in the dean’s office being disciplined. He told the school resource officer, “I hate this freaking school.” A couple of months earlier, he’d been charged with battery at the school, a case that was pending at the time of the threat. A judge issued a risk protection order in November 2018.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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A 20-year-old senior at a Lakeland high school told a group of classmates that he was going to shoot up the school. He called the other students his “little German soldiers” and gave them “the Hitler sign,” according to a student’s affidavit. The boy claimed he was joking and wrote in a sworn statement to police that he gave a Nazi salute and said “gamersriseup.” A judge issued a risk protection order in October 2018.

See a recount of the student’s threat.

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Two girls, ages 11 and 12, in Bartow, east of Tampa, drew up plans to kill multiple students because they wanted to die and be with Satan. They brought knives, scissors and a pizza cutter to school, hid in the restroom and waited for their prey – smaller kids they could overpower. They hoped to kill 15-25 students and then themselves, police found. Among their text messages: “We shouldn’t have met each other lol. Now Death is near.” They were arrested on multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

See photos of the weapons.

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Several kids heard a 17-year-old in Lakeland say that he was going to shoot up his school. At least once a week he made such jokes, one student wrote in an affidavit. The mentally troubled boy had a history of murderous threats and violence and his dad told police his son was “capable of being violent enough that it would make the news.” The judge, however, was not convinced and denied a risk protection order.

See a recount of the student’s threat from classmates.

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Arrested for stealing $300 from the Winter Haven group home where he lived, a 16-year-old juvenile delinquent was overheard by a detective saying on the phone: “I’m going to come back and shoot the bitches up.” At the time, the boy was on pretrial release for a third-degree felony and had a considerable rap sheet. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018.

See a recount of the student’s threat.

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“I can bring a gun and shoot people. … My Paps has a gun,” an irate 13-year-old boy in Polk County told a school cop. The office had been summoned to a special-needs class after the boy began spitting at teachers as they walked by and threatened to “split” another teacher with a knife. The boy’s mom told police she has no guns and locks up the knives in the house. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018.

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A 17-year-old Jacksonville student with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses threatened to commit “the best murder suicide of all school shootings.” He was expelled from school and had a history of death threats, including holding a gun to his cousin’s head. A judge agreed he should not possess a gun for a year.

See a recount of the threat from the police report.

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A 13-year-old boy in central Florida asked his mom if he could stay home on Halloween last year because he was scared to go to school. Another 13-year-old boy had threatened to “shoot up the school with two MAC 10s” and shouted while walking to the bus, “Are you guys ready for tomorrow?” Yet a third 13-year-old wrote in a sworn statement: “He kept bringing it up and I thought he was kidding. He said he was going to shoot it at people and wear a mask.” A psychologist determined that the teen “does not pose any risk for violence” and a judge rejected a request by police for a risk protection order.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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During chapel time, a 13-year-old boy at a private Christian school in central Florida filled a composition book with students’ names. He said it was a birthday list, but other children told authorities he’d described it as a “kill list.” The boy’s 13-year-old friend told police about “the notebook with everybody’s names in it.” “The name that was circled was the person he was going to make suffer,” the child reported. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018 and ordered the child to continue to see a therapist.

See a copy of the alleged kill list.

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A high school student in Lakeland, age 18, told a classmate that he had a dream where he shot and killed several people, and reiterated the threat in a later class, saying he would shoot anyone who was not his friend, pointing at people and stating: “him and him.” The teen claimed, “They don’t affect my life none.” Police did not find any guns in the teen’s house. A judge granted a risk protection order in 2019.

See a recount of the student’s threat from a classmate.

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Google alerted the FBI that someone was making comments on a YouTube video, writing, “I live in Texas and ima shoot up the school Houston Ridge High School.” No such school exists. A Polk County sheriff’s deputy traced the threat to a 15-year-old in central Florida, who said he was joking. He was arrested.

See the alert Google sent to the FBI.

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“I actually wanted to be a school shooter … something just stopped me,” a 17-year-old boy confided to a classmate in Winter Haven. He claimed he “had the damn weapon in school.” “I don’t know why I didn’t go to the bathroom and assemble it. … I’m messed up in the brain.” He was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation and also was arrested.

See the messages the student sent.

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A 17-year-old schizophrenic student at a Jacksonville high school picked his mom’s bedroom door lock and stood above her with a knife. He called police himself, afraid he’d harm himself. Twice, he was suspended from school for fights. Authorities said his mom lives in constant fear he’ll hurt himself or someone else and was keeping him home from school until he could be stabilized on prescription drugs.

See a recount of the threat from the police report.

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A 17-year-old boy in Haines City, in central Florida, posted a picture on Instagram of a handgun and a pack of gum with the words “Yo, everybody come to school tomorrow, I got gum.” Confronted by police, the boy “was very apologetic and began to cry,” claiming the post was a prank and the gun belonged to a friend. Police arrested him.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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A 16-year-old boy with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Asperger’s syndrome told a girl he would shoot up the school in Polk County. The boy’s dad told police the teen gets mad and makes threats to harm people and possibly bomb the U.S. government. A few weeks earlier, he’d been hospitalized from school for saying he wanted to blow up the United States. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018.

See a recount of the student’s threat from a classmate.

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“Halloween is going to be a blast because I’m going to shoot everyone,” a 17-year-old boy in Auburndale, in central Florida, told another student. When questioned, he told police he just has “dark humor.” He’d been hospitalized twice in middle school when suicidal. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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An 11-year-old central Florida boy brought a BB gun to his middle school and told kids on the school bus that he was going to start a school shooting. “I don’t know why I brung it,” he wrote in a sworn statement to police. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018.

See the student’s written statement to police.

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A 16-year-old boy from central Florida told two kids in a bathroom that he hated their “opportunity center” school — for students with serious conduct violations — and would shoot it up the next day. He had been Baker Acted twice in the past. A judge granted a risk protection order in 2018.

See a recount of the incident according to police.

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An Instagram post showed a teen in a hoodie with cherubs over his head holding rifles and the caption: “Active shooter drill tomorrow lol it would be a shame if it was real.” Polk County deputies arrested a 16-year-old Lakeland boy for making the threat. A search of his phone revealed another photo of the teen with the caption: “Someone will die today.” A judge approved a risk protection order in 2018.

See a photo the student posted on social media.

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Frustrated with a boy in middle school, a 13-year-old central Florida girl vowed to shoot up the school. She told police she was being picked on for weeks and that she had been thinking of suicide. Police took her for psychiatric help.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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Administrators at a Catholic school in central Florida called 911 after students said a classmate, 12, claimed he wanted to be an active school shooter when he grows up. The boy told authorities he was kidding. But months earlier he had been arrested and suspended from school after writing a vulgar note to a teacher warning: “give me an A or I will kill you and all of the teachers in music.”


Hear the student’s statement to police

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A 14-year-old Polk County boy threatened a mass shooting at his school on Instagram. In a sworn statement to police, the boy described it as “an evil prank to scare” and said he’d never post such a threat again because he wants to go to high school and college for computer engineering. Police determined the boy lives with his grandparents, who own three guns. A judge issued a risk protection order in 2018.

See the student’s written statement to police.

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An intellectually disabled central Florida boy, 15, started cursing and yelling at a teacher who would not let him leave the classroom to get a glass of water. He threatened to rape and “smoke” her and took off his belt as if to beat her. Another student wrote in a sworn affidavit that she saw him break and stomp a calculator, turn over a bookshelf and rip out pages. The police petition for a risk protection order describes the boy as 6 feet tall and 270 pounds.

See a witness’s written statement to police.

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Students at a central Florida middle school heard a girl, 13, say she would shoot up the school starting with the dean. A search of her backpack turned up a handwritten note saying: “R.I.P. X my heart can’t take it no more, momma I’m losing apart of me. … I’m tired of watching my shoulder and wondering if death is something that is far from me.” The school banned her from carrying a backpack, a court document states. The dean of the school sought a restraining order against her, writing that her threats left him “deeply troubled.” A judge denied the restraining order that would have kept the student away from the dean, but issued a risk protection order against the girl to keep the girl away from guns.

See a recount of the incident according to police.

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“A school shooter coming your way @ dja,” a central Florida girl, 13, posted on Snapchat. Police found “writings of suicide” at her home and took her for a psychiatric evaluation.

See a recount of the threat from a classmate.

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A 15-year-old in central Florida sent a Snapchat message to a girl threatening to kill her, along with a photo of a gun. “I still got that britta,” he wrote, according to court files. It may have been a reference to a Beretta. A judge ordered a risk protection order earlier this year.

See the messages the student sent.

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A 13-year-old boy in Polk County, threatened to shoot a boy at school who was making fun of him in a rap song. Police found the boy’s parents owned two shotguns that were secured with gun locks. A judge issued a temporary risk protection order in 2018.

See a recount of the threat from a classmate.

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A depressed 14-year-old girl in Seminole County was obsessed with the Columbine killers. She told a physician she had researched school shootings and wanted to know what it would be like to do one, but not at her school, which she liked. She wanted people to know that mental illness, not guns, is the reason for the shootings.

See entries from the student’s journal.

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A young man at a Seminole County magnet school had a razor blade under his workstation at school and used it to cut himself. In 2017, he had written “I’m a school shooter” on an assignment. His mom told authorities there was a handgun at home. She said her son, who has a low IQ and special needs, “says and does stupid things.” A judge imposed an order preventing him from possessing a gun.

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A 14-year-old boy in central Florida drew a picture of a shooter pointing a gun at school kids. For a month he had been making comments about shooting up the school. When a tornado watch was issued, for example, he said, “Might as well kill all of them before the tornado kills them.” School officials conducted a threat assessment and found “a variety of risks.” A judge issued a risk protection order.

See a recount of the threat from a student.

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A 19-year-old Orlando college student who described himself as an anarchist had an AR-15 in his vehicle. It had been altered with a bump stock to make it fully automatic. He was arrested.

Watch the student talk to police.

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A 12-year-old in Fort Lauderdale took a realistic looking BB gun to school, pulled it out, pointed it at his counselor and pulled the trigger. It didn’t fire. The boy told police a man in his head ordered him to take the gun to school. He had been Baker Acted before and had been involved in “violent physical exchanges with other students and staff.” He had “made numerous threats to kill himself, to kill school board employees and to burn down the school with him inside,” court documents say. He was ordered detained at the juvenile detention center for 21 days and given a psychological evaluation.

Watch police question the student.

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A 9-year-old Lauderhill elementary student brought a handgun to school, removed it from his backpack and pointed it at three classmates. Authorities were looking into claims he was bullied at the school. He was arrested.

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Police arrested a 16-year-old in Hollywood who had been kicked out of school for taking ammunition to school. He posted on social media: “Everyone happy to go back to school and Im debating whether I should carry my pistol w me like last year. Exactly why my ass tryna get back in my homeschool [right now]” He posted a video showing someone pulling a gun out from under a desk and pointing it toward students.

Watch a video the student posted on social media.

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A 16-year-old Pinellas County student with a low IQ and serious mental problems threatened to kill people every day, his mother said. He had been Baker Acted more than 50 times. “Every time [he] gets upset he threatens that he has a gun and that [he’s] going to shoot up people and schools,” she wrote on a police form, agreeing to keep him from legally buying a gun.

See written statements from the student’s mother.

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A 14-year-old in St. Petersburg was arrested after he sent text messages to a student threatening her and advising he was on his way to shoot up a middle school. He texted her a photo of a semi-automatic pistol and ammunition. His comments were prompted by her texts that other students said he was “broke” and had to borrow someone else’s football cleats and “live on a mattress.” He had a history of mental illness and a prior arrest for sexual battery.

See the messages the student sent.

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The father of an 18-year-old in Indian Shores, on Florida’s west coast, went to police to warn them that if they came to his house, his son would shoot them. His son had acquired a gun, against his parents’ wishes, and threatened to shoot the police. “The father was adamant about [the] seriousness of his sons intentions,” an officer wrote. The gun was surrendered under a risk protection order.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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An assistant principal at a high school in Largo told police she’d learned that an 18-year-old student threatened to attack the school with a firearm “if he did not win a senior superlative award.” He did not receive the award and continued his threats, telling another student, “Don’t come to school tomorrow.” “Everything is wrong and I wanna hurt someone for it,” he texted the student. “So Im finna shoot up the schooo.” Police arrested him for making threats.

See the messages the student sent.

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A 15-year-old girl from St. Petersburg posted on Facebook complaining about another student and threatening to bring a gun to school the next day. In another post, she was holding a black automatic handgun.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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At 14, a St. Petersburg youth threatened another boy with a gun on Snapchat. Police said he broke into his mom’s gun safe to get it. He was arrested. Later, police got a judge to extend the risk protection order keeping him away from guns. They noted that he had violated the original no-guns order and had been arrested for battery on his aunt and for grand theft. He had serious prior violence charges as well, including bringing a weapon onto school property, and multiple assaults. He was “hostile and uncooperative” when police checked on him in the past year to make sure he had no guns.

See a witness’s written statement to police.

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A 17-year-old youth in Pinellas Park posted on Facebook that he would shoot up a specific high school in St. Petersburg if he got one “like” on his post. Several students and school administrators saw it, and it was reported to police. He was arrested. He had photos of himself posing with guns on his Facebook profile.

See the post the student made on social media.

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A student overheard a 16-year-old in St. Petersburg telling another student that he planned to commit a school shooting “on 4-20, like they did,” in reference to the Columbine shooters of April 20, 1999. “Everyone deserves to be splattered,” he said, adding that he would commit suicide afterward rather than go to jail. The other student confirmed the conversation to police. The teen went to the gun range the day before school started and had a post on Facebook with two guns that said “kill them all.” “Don’t you want to know how it feels to kill somebody?” he asked another student at the school. A judge agreed he should be kept from having a gun, under a risk protection order. The one-year order was extended for a second year.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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In Clearwater, a 14-year-old who was bullied at a Christian school talked to two students about a school shooting, saying he would start with a specific student and then “shoot the blacks, then whites, then Hispanics.” He was suicidal, as well. He knew the details of assault rifles by heart and researched the AR-15 on a school computer. His parents told police he had ADHD, had seen a mental health counselor and was expelled from a previous school for anger issues. He had access to guns at his grandfather’s house in another state. A judge agreed he should be kept from having a gun, under a risk protection order.

See a recount of the threat according to police.

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An 18-year-old student attending a Palm Harbor school for kids with ADD or other neuropsychological difficulties posted a photo of himself with a lunch box and a gun on Snapchat, warning, “Don’t come to school today (it’s a bebe gun).” A student saw it, felt scared and showed it to her school principal. He “had little to no capacity to understand what he had done,” a school official told police. A no-guns risk protection order was imposed for a year and then extended because he had not yet undergone mental health treatment, as he waited for insurance coverage. “The mere passage of one year of time does not eliminate the Respondent posing a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself or others by firearm,” officials argued, and a judge agreed.

See the gun the student posted an image of.

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A 19-year-old in Largo “spoke of taking a gun to school shooting [black people] or come to our house and shooting us,” a witness told police. He had made comments on two occasions about shooting people and having access to guns. A judge approved a risk protection order preventing him from legally possessing a gun.

See a witness’s written statement to police.

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A Broward County eighth grader, who worried he had multiple personalities, vowed to kill half the school, according to a police affidavit. The boy kept a notebook with a countdown to “death day.”

A 14-year-old girl in Seminole County, in central Florida, took pride in being able to name the most infamous school shooters and wrote in her journal that she was saving money “to get a GOOD gun.”

A “voice” instructed one Miami-Dade 16-year-old to kill people. And, in still another instance, a 16-year-old Pinellas County student asked a classmate: “Do you want to know how it feels to kill somebody?”

Looking for help for you or someone you know? See a list of mental health resources here.

The details are buried in court cases filed to prevent these young people from buying or possessing guns. Together, the cases illustrate the depth of mental illness and despair raging through today’s young people, a picture generally shielded by privacy laws and concealed from other parents.

The cases were filed under Florida’s new Red Flag law, approved after the Parkland shooting. The law empowers judges to issue risk protection orders to disarm people who appear on the verge of suicide or murder. The orders are used primarily against adults. The Sun Sentinel is the first news outlet to isolate cases involving children and teens, to better understand the risks facing young people and the monumental job of making schools safe.

Page after page of children’s school journals, social media postings and affidavits from those who know them best reveal dozens of students with the same traits as Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz: emotionally disturbed, tormented by mental disorders, lacking the proper medication or therapies, obsessed with death, and nursing a dark grudge against teachers or classmates.

The Sun Sentinel reviewed 100 risk protection orders filed from March 2018 through August 2019 against people 19 or younger.

• In more than half the cases, children had access to guns at home, the records show. Some families had assault weapons in their homes, and some children posed on social media with handguns or other weapons. In one instance, a Volusia County middle schooler and his buddy made a video posing with an assault weapon and bullets they got from under his parent’s bed.

A mentally ill 12-year-old in Miami-Dade posted a picture on Snapchat with a gun, threatening to kill “the people who snitched on me.” In his beachfront condo, his father had three handguns, a Beretta shotgun, an AR-15, an AK-style assault rifle, ammunition and speed loaders.

• Before making deadly threats, children in at least a quarter of the cases had committed violent acts in the past. One boy beat a random man with a hammer. Another punched his school principal in the face. A middle schooler sexually assaulted a 7-year-old. Still another committed armed robbery.

• In more than a third of the cases reviewed by the Sun Sentinel, the children claimed they wanted to die. Kids cut themselves and envisioned murder-suicides. Two girls south of Lakeland, ages 11 and 12, drew up plans to kill multiple students because they wanted to die and be with Satan. They brought knives, scissors and a pizza cutter to school, hid in the restroom and waited for their prey — smaller kids they could overpower. Among their text messages: “We shouldn’t have met each other lol. Now Death is near.” They were arrested.

In addition to the protection orders, more and more children and teens are being arrested for making written threats to kill, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Police made 293 such arrests in 2018 alone. A decade earlier, there were 32.

Arrests for written threats to kill (19 and younger)

The Sun Sentinel is not publishing the names of the mentally troubled young people because of their age. But community leaders say the details confirm a need for a sustained and comprehensive education and mental health campaign to dissuade young people from using threats of lethal violence as their go-to solution to anger, frustration, bullying or hopelessness.

The cases also demonstrate the enormous burden educators and police have in determining who is serious and has the means to carry out an attack — and who is just engaging in adolescent foolishness.

“We can’t tell the difference. And words matter,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “So we’re taking every threat as a serious threat.”

Authorities can’t be wrong. The stakes are too high.

Sweeping mental illness

In nearly half of the cases reviewed by the Sun Sentinel, the children who made the threats had disorders that affected their emotions and behaviors. Many had past histories of psychiatric hospitalizations.

They carried various labels, sometimes multiple ones: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anger issues, manic depressive disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder, delusions, anxiety, conduct disorder and intellectual disorders.

The kids attended all types of schools: public, private, charter and others.

One mentally troubled boy had a history of murderous threats and violence. Several kids in Spanish class heard the 17-year-old say he was going to shoot up his school in Lakeland. When police responded, the student barraged the police officer with racist and vulgar language. Other students documented what they heard. “At least once a week he makes a ‘joke’ about shooting up the school,” one student wrote in an affidavit. According to a police affidavit, the youth spent 46 weeks in a psychiatric unit in 2015. Although his dad told police his son is “capable of being violent enough that it would make the news,” the judge was not convinced and denied the petition to keep him away from guns.

In Jacksonville, another 17-year-old threatened a shooting at a public magnet school. The teen suffered from a history of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. He was homeless and had been expelled from school for fighting, before posting threats a few months later against his former school. He had a history of threatening to kill people.

“It will be the best murder suicide of all school shootings,” he wrote to a friend on the Snapchat social media app.

Often children in Florida are taken from schools straight to psychiatric hospitals for evaluation, under the state’s Baker Act, which allows people to be held up to 72 hours in a locked ward if they appear intent on hurting themselves or others.

From 2002 to 2018, the number of times the Baker Act was used for children increased by 141%, according to the University of South Florida, which tracks the figures. That dramatically outpaced the rising population of young people, which increased by only 13% during that time.

Baker Act use per 100k children

Of the children hospitalized in 2018, most were suicidal. But one in four wanted to kill someone else, too.

A Secret Service study released in July found that two-thirds of the attackers in recent mass shootings exhibited symptoms of mental illness, though many of them had not been diagnosed or treated.

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The records examined by the Sun Sentinel showed instances, too, where children were clearly ill but either refused treatment or were unable to access the right kind of help.

An 18-year-old in Coral Springs hit his father with a chair in early 2019, charged at him with a shovel and vowed to get gasoline and set the house on fire. He was arrested. His dad told police the teen had mood swings but refused mental health treatment.

A few months later, while taking a college entrance exam at Coral Glades High, that teen became irate at the test proctor, pushed over chairs, hurled racial insults at a security guard and shouted: “Just you wait. … I’m gonna come back and shoot up the school and kill everyone.” He was arrested again.

In another case, in Hillsborough County, a mentally ill teen turned to a popular online forum for advice to stop his homicidal thoughts, despite having a therapist. “Almost every day I wake up wanting to kill,” he wrote. “Usually it’s a person that has wronged me but sometimes I just want to kill anyone. Sometimes when I don’t wake up wanting to kill I get the urge throughout the day. I don’t want to end up committing murder but I don’t know how to stop it. Please help. … I would seek help but I’m still in high school.”

Not long ago, the Broward school district analyzed its data and found that 75 students last school year had accumulated 100 or more disciplinary incidents — each — over their academic careers. Of those, slightly more than half were students with a behavioral disability.

The other half, experts said, were likely to have some disorder that was not properly identified or handled.

Baby Health in Winter The shockingly young

The graphic threat of mass shootings pervades even elementary schools, where the youngest children quickly get a darker education than their parents expected, the Sun Sentinel found.

In a childlike scrawl, an 8-year-old boy in Winter Haven gave a signed affidavit saying that a girl told him to “shut your mouth,” and when he refused to stop talking, she told him: “I’m gonna kill you with a gun.”

In Lakeland last year, a 9-year-old boy threatened to kill two classmates and his parents, court records state. He said he had a gun in his book bag and showed another student a 9 mm bullet he said he had found on the side of a road.

“He showed me the bullet, it was silver,” another child wrote in a police affidavit.

The new reality has police officers across Florida taking sworn testimony from baby-faced witnesses and suspects.

A 12-year-old in Fort Lauderdale told police he had a voice in his head giving him orders. He had threatened to shoot up his school, prompting a Code Red lockdown when he fired a realistic-looking BB gun at a school employee. She thought she was going to die that day, she told police.

“Do you know what a detective is?” police asked the sixth-grader in a chilly interrogation room.

“A guy who looks for clues?” he replied.

“You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions,” the detective went on. “Do you understand that? What does that mean?”

“That means I don’t have to talk if I don’t want to?” he answered.

The boy said he didn’t know his address, or even what state he lives in. He said he was cold and hungry.

Baby Health in Winter Guns at the ready

More than half of the young people identified by the Sun Sentinel had access to guns or other serious weapons, typically in their own homes. The weapons most often belonged to their parents, grandparents, uncles and other family members.

In a few cases involving young adults, the guns were their own. After Parkland, lawmakers in Florida raised the age to buy any gun from 18 to 21. Children of any age, however, can use guns while hunting or target shooting. Those under 16 must be supervised by an adult.

In Orlando, police at the University of Central Florida arrested a 19-year-old who had a machine gun in his car. He had altered an AR-15 to make it a fully automatic rifle, using a kit he bought online. Florida law generally prohibits people from having a working machine gun.

Questioned by police, the university student “slowly began to psychologically unravel in front of investigators,” records say.

He talked of Hitler, failing Calculus 2 and keeping his emotions pent up.

On the petition for a court order banning him from having guns, police cited his fascination with weapons, thoughts of suicide, failing grades, lack of friends, anger issues, access to weapons and tactical training from the ROTC. Authorities also wrote that the teen considered himself an anarchist.

In Polk County, a 16-year-old posted a selfie on Instagram wearing a black hoodie, gas mask and tactical vest. He was holding an AR-15 in a gloved hand, pointing it up to the ceiling like a terrorist. His face wasn’t visible.

He bragged to classmates at his high school about having bombs at home and boasted “he was not afraid to shoot the school up,” according to a report written by the school resource officer.

The teen had an arsenal at his disposal. To take the selfie, he told police, he took the key to his dad’s gun safe, while his dad was sleeping. The youth told a detective he also had his own gun safe in his bedroom, where he keeps a hunting rifle.

His father surrendered 18 weapons to police, including an AR-15, the type of rifle used in the Parkland massacre. The boy’s mother later texted police claiming the father did not hand over all of his guns, hiding some under couch cushions and in walls, the police affidavit states. During a subsequent search, police found and seized additional ammunition in the home but no guns, according to a July 2018 judicial order summarizing a hearing on the matter.

In still another case, a 14-year-old boy in central Florida who had been hospitalized in the past for trying to cut his wrist was found with a pistol in his waistband at his school, a police affidavit states. His explanation: He stole the gun from his grandfather. His mom and brother are convicted felons and can’t have firearms so “his mother gave him the pistol back and told him to hide it,” the record states. He told police he didn’t intend to use the gun on school grounds, which is why it was unloaded, he said. Police found ammo — in his pocket.

Ann Siegel, a Florida attorney who advocates for the rights of mentally ill children, said adults must act more responsibly. “I don’t think children should have access to guns,” she said.“I think if you’re an adult and you have a gun, then it’s on you to make sure it’s secured in a way and manner that a child can’t ever gain access to it.”

Florida’s risk protection law does not require people to relinquish their firearms to police. They can transfer their guns to a trusted friend or relative, who must keep them away from the accused.

“A risk protection order is simply this: It’s a cooling-off period,” said Grady Judd, the Polk County sheriff. “It’s not the government seizing your firearms.”

Some parents refuse to relinquish their guns.

The father of a mentally ill teen who brought a gun to Coral Springs High in 2016 promised authorities he’d lock his guns in a safe, away from his son.

But earlier this year, the teen found the safe’s combination written on a piece of paper, retrieved an AR-15 and posted pictures of himself with it on Instagram, under the user name “actuallythegrimreaper.” Police arrested him in June of this year for violating a court order not to possess guns.

Baby Health in Winter Idolizing killers

Court records show that some children draw inspiration from past school shooters. In at least a dozen cases, children referenced Parkland or the Columbine murderers.

There are “True Crime Communities” on the social media site Tumblr, for example, where people express admiration and fascination for serial killers. These enthusiasts included an 18-year-old Broward County girl.

Using the Tumblr screen name “crazystalkerbitch,” she professed adoration for Columbine High shooter Eric Harris. A behavior specialist at the school asked police to investigate the account. They found that the girl searched online for firearms, especially shotguns and how to make a bomb, and she admitted that she dreamed of a school shooting and killing a lot of people, court records state.

The teen was briefly hospitalized for psychiatric observation and authorities sought a risk protection order against her.

But her family hired a lawyer who successfully fought it by arguing that the words on Tumblr were not threats but “dramatic expressions of teenage frustration and anxiety.”

Online troves of school shooter lore, documents, diaries and details attract followers who are misfits, children who are bullied and the socially awkward.

A 14-year-old depressed and suicidal girl in a small town northeast of Orlando kept journals with photos and drawings of past school shooters. She told a physician she had researched Columbine and more recent shootings and wanted to know what it would be like to carry out an attack.

“There is still that part of me who wants to slaughter hundreds and cause mass panic and destruction!” she wrote in her journal.

In a 2018 case, a University of Central Florida student posted on Reddit: “Cruz is a hero,” referring to the Parkland shooter. The UCF student told authorities he’d had urges to commit a mass shooting since his sophomore year of high school in 2014 but didn’t have the courage “yet.”

All it would take, he suggested, would be a significant life event, such as a job loss or breakup. Then, he said, he’d target his former middle school.

Baby Health in Winter Identifying threats

Parents of children with behavioral disorders caution that most kids do not actually intend to kill; they just have no impulse control. No filter. They get upset and blurt out things they don’t mean.

Adults recognize that kids say stupid things. But what if one of them means it? What if one of them is the next Nikolas Cruz?

Since Parkland, police, mental health therapists and school officials are being extra cautious.

Last year, a Broward youth at Northeast High posted photos on Instagram of himself holding two guns with the caption: “Can’t wait to try them out.” A counselor who worked with him at a shelter for runaways and troubled kids told police the teen had similarities to Nikolas Cruz. He was sent for psychiatric evaluation.

The teacher of a Seminole County teen had that concern, too.

“In light of new information regarding the most recent school shooting, it seems like facebook/Instagram pages with guns and Nazi references are a correlation in ties that bind recent school shooters,” the teacher noted, saying she was concerned for the student’s well-being, “as well as the safety of our school.”

According to the risk protection order, the teen sent a Snapchat video to a classmate warning her not to go to school because he planned to punish his ex-girlfriends and school bullies. The teen said he could relate to school shooters and had made such threats more times than he could count, starting when the Sandy Hook shooting occurred in 2012. He referenced that tragedy by its exact date, police noted. They arrested him.

Since Sandy Hook and Parkland, there have been countless academic studies and blue-ribbon commissions and task forces and workshops and hearings about the shooters — how they became who they are and did what they did.

Early warning signs, though, have not varied much in the two decades since the Florida Senate commissioned a report by the Task Force on School Safety. It was commissioned in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting.

The signs then, as today, included children who habitually make violent threats; display serious disciplinary problems; enjoy few friends or none at all; abuse animals; obsess over weapons; bully others; favor violent TV shows, video games, movies or music; suffer frequent depression; threaten or attempt suicide; and break down in tantrums and uncontrollable anger.

Baby Health in Winter Losing hope

Parents often search in vain for the right help for their child. Some have no hope of avoiding a terrible ending.

In Duval County, in northeast Florida, the mother of a 13-year-old boy who threatened to kill her told police she wasn’t afraid of him but did believe he “will kill someone eventually.”

The mentally ill teen was prevented from returning to his elementary school after he called his teacher at home and told her boyfriend he’d “beat his ass” and “had shooters on standby.”

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, in its most recent report to the governor, urged a better system of mental health care in Florida for children and adults.

Most kids are able to receive some services from a mental health professional at school; however, schools can’t meet all of the needs, the commission reported.

“Schools are not designed, staffed or funded to be any individual’s, or any family’s, ‘overall’ mental health provider. In many cases, besides its role of helping the student thrive academically, the school’s role is to refer the student and/or their family to community-based treatment services,” the commission wrote.

Those services are also lacking and hard for families to afford or access. As a result, children — and adults — are in and out of hospitals for psychiatric emergencies.

Nothing forces parents to ensure that a child follows a hospital’s recommendations after a Baker Act or faithfully takes prescribed medication, the commission found. The state child welfare system is considering more effective “wraparound services” after a person’s first Baker Act, the panel’s report states.

Meanwhile, some desperate parents are left to take desperate action.

The mother of a Pinellas County teen once tried to give him up at fire and police stations when he was 12. The law allows parents to turn over children they can’t care for — but only newborns.

The young person had been involuntarily hospitalized for psychiatric care 50 times, and his aggressive, impulsive behavior confounded his parents terribly. For years, he had said “he’s going to shoot up a school,” said Cathelene Harris, who isn’t the boy’s biological mother but is helping to raise him.

She said the youth, now 17, isn’t even allowed back at his church. Despite her efforts over many years, she said, he is not better.

“Every time you see a kid shooting up a school or church or crowd, everybody goes, ‘Oh, he had a mental problem.’ Well you should have done something about it. People are crying out for help and not getting it,” she said in an interview.“And that’s what I’ve been doing for years for [the boy], crying out.”

The father of one Duval County teen said he’d put every effort into helping his son, whom another family member described as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Brian Martin Sr. said his 18-year-old son needs 24-hour supervision to keep him from killing someone, or himself. As a local truck driver, Martin can’t give it.

“Just the other day he had a knife in his hand,” he said in an interview in June.“I asked him, ‘What are you going to do with that knife?’ He said, ‘I’m thinking about killing myself.’ ”

Another day, the boy swallowed a container of pills. Martin told him to vomit, and he complied.

“He said because he has no purpose on this earth and … he has no feeling for nobody around him,” Martin recounted.“How do you change a person like that?”

The Parkland shooter’s adoptive mother, who once called him “evil,” repeatedly pleaded for help, school records show. She insisted that “something is very wrong with him.”

He had years of help from counselors and doctors, his school records show. Yet none of the interventions stopped him.

One of Nikolas Cruz’s last Google searches was on Feb. 9, 2018, five days before he attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He looked for a therapist who could quiet his obsession with murder.

Megan O’Matz can be reached at momatz@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4518. Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@sunsentinel.com or at 954-356-4541.

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