Zachary Cruz, the half-brother of Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, says he was “too hard” on his brother when they were kids growing up in South Florida.
In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Cruz recalled their once-strained relationship and expressed hope for the future as he prepares to move to Virginia — far away from the town his brother terrorized just three months ago.
“When we were younger we used to fight a lot,” Zachary Cruz told the newspaper. “But as we got older and became teenagers we made amends and came to terms with each other and accepted that we were both different.”
The siblings, who share a mother, were adopted as young children by couple Lynda and Robert Cruz. Robert Cruz died of a heart attack in 2004, leaving his wife to raise the two young boys on her own. The brothers’ lives were forever changed, however, when Lynda died suddenly from complications of the flu in November — mere months before Nikolas carried out the bloody Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The shooting left 17 people dead and several others injured. The elder Cruz is now charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder.
“(Nikolas) is a very fragile person and my mom was always there for him,” Zachary Cruz added.
The 18-year-old was released from jail on May 3 after violating probation for trespassing at Stoneman Douglas High School just weeks after his brother’s attack. Despite warnings to stay away, the younger Cruz went back to the school, telling police that he wanted to “… reflect on the shooting and soak it all in.”
He was released but arrested again after being spotted near another local high school. Authorities also said the teen was driving without a valid license.
With the arrest now behind him, Cruz said he is looking forward to getting his life back on track. On May 11, Judge Melinda Brown signed an order giving the Florida teen permission to carry out his six-month probation in Staunton, Va., the Palm Beach Post reported. Cruz will live in a rent-free apartment near the headquarters of Nexus Services, a pro-bono civil right’s group that’s funding Cruz’s location, and work a $13-per-hour job with benefits.
Rocxanne Deschamps, who took Nikolas and Zachary in after their adoptive mom died last year, kicked the younger Cruz out of her house following his arrest earlier this month. She reportedly also called the police to report his probation violation. Nikolas had been long gone from the home, as Deschamps put him out less than a month after moving in for allegedly assaulting her son.
Zachary will now have a new caretaker during his time in Virginia, the newspaper reported. The teen will be living with a woman named Terry Ann Johnson, whose brother was also convicted in a mass shooting where 12 people were shot, no one was killed.
“When she heard (Zachary’s) case it spoke to her,” said Michael Donovan, who works for Nexus Services. ” … This kid is remarkably well adjusted considered with what he’s been through. I believe he is going to be a great success … he has a story to tell that can really hopefully change the way isolated, disenfranchised kids are treated in the school system.”
While out of state, Cruz’s probation will still be managed by Broward County. He’ll be required to check in with his probation officer on a weekly basis and attend counseling once every week.
“[I] want to live my life,” Cruz told the newspaper. “I want to just finish high school. After that I want to do anything I want to do.”