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Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz used to strut around the house with a shotgun, playing a song about school shootings and pretending to pull the trigger, his brother says.
“You’d better run, better run, outrun my gun,” the song intones. “Better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”
Cruz would “act like he’s shooting stuff” while the Grammy-nominated song “Pumped Up Kicks” played in the background, his brother, Zachary, told a detective.
“I would just look at him, like, you’re a clown, dude. What are you doing?” Zachary Cruz said the night of Feb. 14, just hours after Cruz had killed 17 people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Prosecutors released the statement as part of the criminal case. Asked whether Nikolas ever discussed shooting up the school, Zachary said no but offered that there were “signs.”
“Do you know the song ‘Pumped up Kicks?’ You know what the song’s about? I would hear him playing that song,” he said.
The hit song, by the indie pop band Foster the People, is widely lampooned and celebrated by fans online in memes and homemade videos. It rose to No. 3 on Billboard’s top songs chart in 2011 and was a contender in 2012 for a Grammy Award.
The band is a supporter of the Parkland survivors’ March for Our Lives movement to ban assault-style rifles and fund proven violence prevention programs.
In the days after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, the band’s Twitter page called on fans to “march with our kids in solidarity. loud voices. peaceful protest,” compelling one person to retort: “Didn’t you guys write a hit song glamorizing gun violence?”
The song is about a “cowboy kid” named Robert who thinks about shooting up his school with a “six shooter gun” found in his father’s closet. The title refers to Reebok inflatable — or pumped-up — high-top sneakers popular in the 1990s among rich kids, the gunman’s prospective targets.
In contrast to the lyrics, the tune is upbeat and bouncy. The lead vocalist, Mark Foster, is a Beach Boys fan, and the music video shows scenes of Foster’s band joyfully making music — and surfing. The video does not depict any shooting. It has been viewed on YouTube hundreds of millions of times.
Foster has explained publicly that the song was not meant to encourage violence but to raise awareness of it.
“It feels like these mass shootings are just becoming common now,” Foster told CNN in November 2017, before the Parkland tragedy. “I wrote that song seven years ago, predicting that it’s going to get worse before it got better.”
In that interview Foster said he penned the song to urge people to “do something about gun violence” and “wanting legislation to be passed.”
The band’s former bassist, Cubbie Fink, has a cousin who survived the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, according to published reports. He did not return a message left on his wife’s cellphone.
Columbia Records, which represents the band, did not readily respond to a request for comment.
The song was pulled from many radio stations after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Ct., and the band struggled to produce another chart-topper.
But it now has a new hit song, “Sit Next to Me,” which Rolling Stone magazine called a “surprise comeback.” The band still plays “Pumped up Kicks” on tour.
Public officials’ unease with the song has not waned.
Days after the Parkland rampage, authorities arrested a New Jersey high school student for a perceived threat after finding a video he posted online showing himself at a gun range with others. The video was set to the music of “Pumped up Kicks.”
Some individuals on Twitter immediately connected the song to Cruz.
Now 19, Cruz showed aberrant behavior beginning as a toddler, struggling with impulsiveness, hyperactivity and depression throughout his school years. He used racial slurs, had an obsession with guns and knives and commonly made unsettling statements about violence to other students.
Zachary Cruz told the detective that Nikolas cut his wrists at times and Zachary would hear him talking to himself.
“He’d come out of, like, his room and, like, he had, like, a white T-shirt on just full of blood and …he’d be listening to music also. He’d just be headbanging, like,” said the younger Zachary, who along with Nikolas was adopted as an infant by a Parkland couple. “I was, like, this kid’s weird. …We stopped, like, really talking.”