Brother of Florida school shooting suspect going to Virginia
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The brother of Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz can serve out his probation for trespassing in Virginia, where his lawyer says a home, a job and educational opportunities await, a judge ruled Friday.
Zachary Cruz, 18, had to get permission from Broward County Judge Melinda Brown to move to Staunton, Virginia, because he is on six months’ probation for trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nikolas Cruz is accused of killing 17 people there in the Valentine’s Day shooting rampage.
“You need to just take this moment and appreciate what they’re offering you,” Brown told Zachary Cruz. “Make wise choices.”
Cruz’s job as a maintenance technician and living quarters will be provided by Nexus Services, which specializes in helping people adjust after prison or treatment. He will make $13 an hour and still face a host of probation restrictions including no possession of weapons or ammunition, no drug or alcohol use and no visits to any school unless he is enrolled there.
“I’m very happy with the court’s ruling,” Zachary Cruz, dressed in a charcoal suit and plaid tie, told reporters after the hearing. “I’m looking forward to starting a new life there.”
Zachary Cruz had been living with a caretaker, Rocxanne Deschamps, who initially took in both brothers after their mother died in November. Nikolas Cruz moved out after a dispute with Deschamps over his gun ownership and went to live with another family shortly before the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
Deschamps told Zachary Cruz he had to leave her home after he was arrested last week for violating probation by driving his mother’s car without a license, attorney Mark Lowry said. He has been living in a hotel since then.
Lowry said the move to Virginia will give Zachary Cruz a chance to live a relatively normal life and escape the shadow of the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Nikolas Cruz has confessed to the crime and his lawyers say he would plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence, but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
“Mr. Cruz is not his brother. He is not charged with what his brother is charged with,” Lowry said. “This gives him a chance to start over. A fresh start.”
Prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy closely questioned Nexus officials at the hearing about the level of supervision Zachary Cruz would be under, how he would get around and what kind of mental health counseling would be available. The Nexus officials assured her they would keep close tabs on him and ensure he met all requirements of his probation, including electronic monitoring of his whereabouts.
Still, Murphy said she was concerned he was leaving Broward County’s jurisdiction. Prosecutors have previously noted Zachary Cruz’s own scrapes with law enforcement and said many “red flags” exist with him that were apparent with his brother after the shooting.
“I wish I could say I was without trepidation,” Murphy said. Then she added. “The state of Florida wants nothing more than for Mr. Cruz to be successful.”
Zachary Cruz said he will leave Saturday for Virginia.