Gunman Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 and injured over a dozen more in the deadliest mass shooting since Sandy Hook, moved in with the Sneads just three months before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
According to a newly-surfaced NBC interview with Kimberly and James Snead, the couple saw Cruz, 19, not as the "monster he turned out to be," but as a young man their son had befriended and someone they’d welcomed into their home.
"The Nik we knew was not the monster he turned out to be," James Snead, whose son befriended Nikolas Cruz, told @KerryNBC. https://t.co/KMdSjEomaI— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) February 19, 2018
See more of their interview tonight on @NBCNightlyNews. pic.twitter.com/9NX2aNYPOZ
James told NBC that Cruz, seemingly depressed after losing his mom to pneumonia, had referred to his time with them as the "happiest" in his life.
"When we went out to dinner, he went out to dinner with us," James said. "When we went to a friend's house, he went with us. He was part of our family."
The Sneads claim that they saw no signs of the animal cruelty that Cruz’s neighbors and peers noted in the past, nor did they hear about rumors that he’d stalked a girl from Stoneman Douglas, his former school.
When the Snead family took Nikolas Cruz into their home last November, they thought of him as one of their own.— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 19, 2018
Now, they're trying to think of how they may have missed the warning signs. https://t.co/wrWWIcxDH3 pic.twitter.com/Tao1z72izL
The Sneads had rules Cruz had to follow
Kimberly told NBC that Cruz behaved like he was "afraid to be in trouble."
"I told him there’d be rules and he followed every rule to the T," James said to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Saturday. (You can read the full exclusive here.)
One of these rules was about gun safety. The Sneads, who reportedly grew up with guns, said Cruz had to keep his in a safe. James said he believed he had the "sole key" to that safe — he wasn't aware that Cruz had a spare.
Cruz also had to ask permission before he took out the guns, and Kimberly told the Sun-Sentinel that he’d only asked twice since November when he'd moved in — and only once did they say "yes."
"We had this monster living under our roof and we didn’t know," Kimberly told the publication. "We didn’t see this side of him."
Cruz said he didn’t want to go to school on Valentine’s Day
On the morning of the mass Florida shooting, Valentine’s Day 2018, Cruz told the Sneads that he didn’t want to go to the school he’d been attending. According to the Sun-Sentinel, he most recently attended Rock Island OCLC in Oakland Park, which Metro could not immediately confirm.
Cruz reportedly said, "It’s Valentine’s Day and I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day."
Kimberly recalled that she last saw Cruz when she was running out for errands, and he’d said he was going fishing. Instead, he went to Stoneman Douglas High School with his AR-15 rifle.
Cruz sent the Sneads’ son — who went to Stoneman Douglas — texts that day asking what classroom he was in, then later wrote that he was going to the movies but had "something important" he wanted to tell the teen.
When pressed about it, he later wrote that it was "nothing."
The Sneads see Cruz in custody
When the Sneads saw Cruz at Broward Sheriff's Office to pick up their son, who, unharmed, was also being questioned by the police, they didn't know how to react.
"We didn't speak with him, I more of yelled at him," Kimberly told NBC. "I was actually going to strangle him. I wanted to go after him. I tried, I guess."
The Sun-Sentinel reported that James held her back.
The only thing she could manage at the time, Kimberly recalled, was yelling, "Really, Nik? Really?"
"He said he was sorry. He apologized. He looked lost, absolutely lost," James said of Cruz when he was brought into custody. "And that was the last time we saw him."