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Condensed highlights from a long article-
In a photograph from their childhood, Nikolas and Zachary Cruz sit arm in arm, grinning like the best of buddies. But their relationship was much more tormented.
The fracture between Nikolas Cruz and his younger brother haunted the school killer, according to records and family friends. By all accounts, it was an important element of his twisted psyche. Nikolas Cruz was unable to cope with the brotherly strife that an average boy might have shrugged off.
The split was so deep that in middle school, Nikolas Cruz slept with scissors and knives, apparently fearful of his brother, their adoptive mother told a psychiatrist. Until she died in November, his mother was his closest friend, siding with him as he warred with his brother and the world around him.
Zachary Cruz has been arrested for skateboarding at his brother’s crime scene, and sat in an isolated cell in the same jail. Police keep track of him with an ankle monitor the court ordered him to wear. He’s been confined twice under the Baker Act, which allows authorities to involuntarily hospitalize a person for a psychological evaluation.
Despite the brothers’ rocky history, Zachary Cruz visits his brother in jail, and attends his court hearings.
“Zachary Cruz is the only person in the world that Nikolas Cruz has left to speak to,” the younger brother’s attorney, Joseph Kimok, said in court papers.
The turnabout is stark. One family friend told the Sun Sentinel that Zachary Cruz — who grew larger and stronger than Nikolas — teased and tormented him before the shooting.
“He created all kinds of havoc in the house,” former neighbor Paul Gold said of Zachary Cruz. “He was his brother’s biggest bully.”
Zachary Cruz himself told deputies he and his friends mistreated Nikolas Cruz, and now he wished they’d been “nicer.”
In a live Instagram video recently, he answered questions posed by the scores of followers who have flocked to him. Like his brother, he has attracted a fold of new “friends” — strangers who profess to love him and tune in to watch him eat a Hot Pocket.
“Are you and Nikolas very different?” he read aloud, then answered: “No. We have a lot of similarities that nobody knows about.”
Both boys have emotional and behavioral problems, records say. Both were treated with mental health counseling, and medication. Neither earned a driver’s license, or a high school diploma.
But there are differences, too. Zachary Cruz was the more popular brother, able to make friends — something Nikolas agonized over not being able to do.
“He has no friends in the neighborhood and feels rejected by peers in school,” a child psychiatrist noted in a 2014 school evaluation of Nikolas Cruz obtained by the Sun Sentinel.
His brother’s rejection stabbed at him. A longtime former family friend who didn’t want her name published said Zachary’s friends didn’t want Nikolas around. The older Cruz boy threw temper tantrums if things didn’t go his way. Their mother forced Zachary to allow his brother to tag along.
“You can’t go unless you take Nikolas,” the friend recalled Lynda Cruz telling Zachary.
When she baby-sat the boys, she said Nikolas would stand at the window. When she asked what he was doing, he’d say, “Waiting for my mother.”
Another friend and former neighbor, Paul Gold, said Zachary Cruz resented his brother because “his mother paid more attention to Nikolas.”
Both sons were diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, public records say. Nikolas Cruz was labeled in some records as having autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Zachary Cruz was described as having oppositional defiant disorder.
When Lynda Cruz was at wit’s end, she’d pick up the phone and dial 911. One particularly rough year, 2012, Lynda Cruz reached for help from the Broward Sheriff’s Office at least eight times.
In one call, she complained the boys were “out of control” and “destroying (the) home.” In another, Lynda Cruz asked deputies to “talk to (Zachary) about his behavior” because he was “extremely defiant,” “rude and always runs away from home.”
Still another that year came when 12-year-old Zachary and 14-year-old Nikolas “left out their bedroom window and climbed over the fence. ... Both didn’t take their meds,” the dispatcher’s report reads. Lynda Cruz was 63 at the time.
In November, Lynda Cruz caught pneumonia and died. She was 68.
One recent afternoon, Zachary videotaped himself for his Instagram audience sifting through a pile of photographs, holding up pictures of himself and his brother as little boys in the bathtub, and on a bike ride.
Another afternoon, Zachary Cruz read from their comments on the screen: “A happy childhood memory?”
“I have a lot of those,” he answered, “but I don’t want to share any of them yet.” He paused for a long time and looked away. “Just ’cuz.”
Lynda Cruz clearly sought help time and time again for her kids. I am truly heartbroken this woman who adopted, cared for, loved Nik and Zach was basically left helpless. Even more heart-wrenching is the fact this poor woman likely died worrying about what would happen to them.