Family Who Housed Florida School Shooter Describes the Days Before the Attack

The days before Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire in a high school in Parkland, Fla., were normal, said James Snead, the man who was housing the 19-year-old.

Two weeks earlier, “he told me this is the best he’s ever felt in his life,” Mr. Snead, 48, said.

Mr. Cruz had lived with the Snead family for only a few months. Mr. Snead and his wife had invited Mr. Cruz, a friend of their son, to move in after his mother died in November.

Mr. Snead, a gun owner, said he required Mr. Cruz to follow house rules. He told Mr. Cruz that he would need his own gun safe for his firearms in order to live with the Sneads. Mr. Cruz owned “five or six guns,” as well as pellet guns, and they were all bought legally, Mr. Snead said.

“He followed [the rules] to the T,” Mr. Snead said. Mr. Snead had what he thought was the only key to the safe, he said. After Wednesday’s shootings, he realized Mr. Cruz had an extra key.

From Columbine to Parkland: Mass Shootings in the Nation’s Schools





April 20, 1999

Columbine High School Students and teachers were evacuated after two gunmen went on a shooting rampage in the southwest Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo. Photo: Kevin Higley/AssociatedPress

Columbine High SchoolStudents and teachers were evacuated after two gunmen went on a shooting rampage in the southwest Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo.Photo: Kevin Higley/AssociatedPress

Santana High SchoolStudents gathered at a makeshift memorial in Santee, Calif., after a gunman opened fire, killing two students and injuring 13 others. Photo: Nick Ut/Associated Press

Red Lake High SchoolLlewellyn Thunder, right, held a photo of his son Steven Cobenais, who was one of the students fatally shot on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Red Lake, Minn. Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press

West Nickel Mines Amish SchoolAmish women mourned the loss of five school girls who were shot and killed at the one-room school in Nickel Mines, Pa.Photo: Fred Comegys/The Wilmington News Journal/Associated Press

Chardon High SchoolT.J. Lane was led from Juvenile Court after his arraignment in the shooting spree that killed three students about 30 miles outside Cleveland. Photo: Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Sandy Hook Elementary SchoolCarlee Soto learning her sister, Victoria Soto, who was a teacher, was one of 26 people killed in the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Photo: Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Marshall County High SchoolPeople attended a vigil after the fatal shooting in Benton, Ky., which left over a dozen injured.Photo: Robert Ray/Associated Press

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High SchoolStudents were escorted out of the school after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“He definitely had a key to the gun safe I didn’t know about,” Mr. Snead said.

A Broward County sheriff spokeswoman said the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further. The public defender’s office, which is representing Mr. Cruz, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Cruz faces 17 charges of premeditated murder for the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Since the killings, neighbors and classmates have described disturbing behavior by Mr. Cruz, including an obsession with weapons.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said it didn’t follow up on a January tip about Mr. Cruz’s behavior. A former neighbor said she called the police two years ago after Mr. Cruz posted on social media that he wanted to shoot up a school.

Mr. Snead described Mr. Cruz as well-mannered and respectful during their time together.

Three Decades of School Shootings


“He would come out of his room and say ‘Is there food?’ I’m like, ‘Man, you’re 19 years old, I’ve got two refrigerators, you better find food,’” Mr. Snead said. “We had to teach him how to use the microwave, teach him how to cook, teach him how to do laundry.”

Before Mr. Snead let Mr. Cruz move in, Mr. Cruz slept over with the Sneads’ son and another friend before a hunting trip. “He was great. He followed the rules. He was polite,” Mr. Snead said.

The last time Mr. Snead saw Mr. Cruz was Tuesday night, he said. He ate dinner and watched television with the Snead family and told them that he wouldn’t be going to school the next day. He told the family he didn’t go to school on Valentine’s Day.

Mr. Snead’s wife, Kimberly, 49, saw Mr. Cruz on Wednesday morning and said he seemed normal. Mr. Cruz told Mr. Snead’s son that he was going to the movies, Mr. Snead said.

Later that day, Mr. Snead received a text from his son.

“The fire alarm went on and I heard shots and I took off,” he said in the text. “I’m running.”

Mr. Snead’s son ran to safety at the middle school behind Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mr. Snead texted his son’s teacher and learned the school was in lockdown.

Then came a call from police investigating the shooting and asking if Mr. Snead knew where Mr. Cruz was.

Later, Mr. Snead heard witnesses describe what the shooter looked like. “The description fit Nik,” he said.

The next time Mr. Snead called his son, they thought Mr. Cruz might be the suspect. Even then, Mr. Snead said, it was hard to believe.

“We kind of realized it at the same time,” he said. “We were like, ‘nah.’”

Write to Zolan Kanno-Youngs at

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