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Family Who Housed Florida School Shooter Describes the Days Before the Attack

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 2/19/2018 Zolan Kanno-Youngs
Students are released from a lockdown outside of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. after reports of an active shooter on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Florida high school shooting

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The days before Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire in a high school in Parkland, Fla., were normal, said James Snead, the man who was housing the 19-year-old.

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Two weeks earlier, “he told me this is the best he’s ever felt in his life,” Mr. Snead, 48, said.

Mr. Cruz had lived with the Snead family for only a few months. Mr. Snead and his wife had invited Mr. Cruz, a friend of their son, to move in after his mother died in November.

Mr. Snead, a gun owner, said he required Mr. Cruz to follow house rules. He told Mr. Cruz that he would need his own gun safe for his firearms in order to live with the Sneads. Mr. Cruz owned “five or six guns,” as well as pellet guns, and they were all bought legally, Mr. Snead said.

a man and a woman looking at the camera © Susan Stocker/Associated Press “He followed [the rules] to the T,” Mr. Snead said. Mr. Snead had what he thought was the only key to the safe, he said. After Wednesday’s shootings, he realized Mr. Cruz had an extra key.

“He definitely had a key to the gun safe I didn’t know about,” Mr. Snead said.

A Broward County sheriff spokeswoman said the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further. The public defender’s office, which is representing Mr. Cruz, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Cruz faces 17 charges of premeditated murder for the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Since the killings, neighbors and classmates have described disturbing behavior by Mr. Cruz, including an obsession with weapons.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said it didn’t follow up on a January tip about Mr. Cruz’s behavior. A former neighbor said she called the police two years ago after Mr. Cruz posted on social media that he wanted to shoot up a school.

Mr. Snead described Mr. Cruz as well-mannered and respectful during their time together.

“He would come out of his room and say ‘Is there food?’ I’m like, ‘Man, you’re 19 years old, I’ve got two refrigerators, you better find food,’” Mr. Snead said. “We had to teach him how to use the microwave, teach him how to cook, teach him how to do laundry.”

Before Mr. Snead let Mr. Cruz move in, Mr. Cruz slept over with the Sneads’ son and another friend before a hunting trip. “He was great. He followed the rules. He was polite,” Mr. Snead said.

Ariana Gonzalez is overcome with emotion as she visits a cross setup for her friend, football coach Aaron Feis, at the memorial in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as teachers and staff are allowed to return to the school for the first time since the mass shooting on campus on Feb. 23,  in rkland, Florida. Tributes to the Victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

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The last time Mr. Snead saw Mr. Cruz was Tuesday night, he said. He ate dinner and watched television with the Snead family and told them that he wouldn’t be going to school the next day. He told the family he didn’t go to school on Valentine’s Day.

Mr. Snead’s wife, Kimberly, 49, saw Mr. Cruz on Wednesday morning and said he seemed normal. Mr. Cruz told Mr. Snead’s son that he was going to the movies, Mr. Snead said.

Later that day, Mr. Snead received a text from his son.

“The fire alarm went on and I heard shots and I took off,” he said in the text. “I’m running.”

Mr. Snead’s son ran to safety at the middle school behind Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mr. Snead texted his son’s teacher and learned the school was in lockdown.

Then came a call from police investigating the shooting and asking if Mr. Snead knew where Mr. Cruz was.

Later, Mr. Snead heard witnesses describe what the shooter looked like. “The description fit Nik,” he said.

The next time Mr. Snead called his son, they thought Mr. Cruz might be the suspect. Even then, Mr. Snead said, it was hard to believe.

“We kind of realized it at the same time,” he said. “We were like, ‘nah.’”

Write to Zolan Kanno-Youngs at


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