Florida suspect’s digital profile very disturbing, local experts talk about how to spot the signs

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PARKLAND, Fla. -- Nikolas Cruz, described as a loner by a former classmate, had once been expelled from a Parkland, Florida, high school for disciplinary reasons.

On Wednesday, the 19-year-old former student returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and is suspected of gunning down at least 17 people, in a massacre that has now become one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history.

Investigators believe that the suspect pulled the fire alarm to draw people out and get a higher death toll, according to a law enforcement source.

Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Jacob Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He makes his initial court appearance Thursday, February 15, 2018 morning.

He is also believed to have concealed himself among the hundreds of students fleeing the school, according to the Broward County Sheriff's Office. Investigators were able to identify Cruz from school security videos and found him in a nearby neighborhood in Coral Springs, according to police.

Officers arrested him without incident. He is talking to investigators, according to a law enforcement source.

Meanwhile, details have begun to emerge of the suspect, his disturbing social media presence and his family life.

His digital life

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Cruz's digital profile contained what he called "very, very disturbing" content.

He had a variety of gun and violence-related postings on social media sites.

Postings under the name Nikolas Cruz included threatening comments under videos on YouTube and other sites, including "I whana shoot people with my AR-15" (sic), "I wanna die Fighting killing s**t ton of people" and "I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people."

On his Instagram page, Cruz posted a photo of a shotgun, in another photo he is shown brandishing a pistol that appears to be a type of BB gun. In other pictures he is covering his face with a kerchief, and brandishing long knives.

Police say Cruz was armed with multiple magazines and at least one AR-15 style rifle.

The suspected shooter bought the firearm in the past year and had passed the background check to make the purchase, according to a US official briefed on the investigation.

But how will we know if someone is troubled...what do we look for?

Conversation is a huge key to understanding the signs.

"Opening a line of conversation is really important to hear what they're thinking and what they're feeling and being open to what that experience is for them, talking about not only the negative side but the positive," said Ehrin Weiss Ph.D. of Houston Family Psychology.

Adults may not always be around so when it comes to an individual's peers, it's always best to speak up and notify someone.

If you see something, say something!

"It is important to tell a teacher, tell an adult. The kids often know the classroom better than some of the adults do and they often know whats going on with certain students even more than a teacher or an adult would," said  Julie Kaplow, Ph.D. with the Texas Children’s Hospital Trauma & Grief Center.

For parents, the behavioral markers are major signs that a child may be experiencing harmful thoughts or a disconnect from society.

"Sudden change in behavior, although someone might have been feeling this way for a long time, so that's not always a clear indication. Withdrawal! If people express a lot of anger or hatred towards the school or others. If kids are making overly violent comments. Those types of behaviors," explained Weiss.

Once contact is made parents must remain neutral and listen instead of dictating and placing blame.

"A lot of teenagers shut down because they're afraid their parents are going to either get to worried or mad at them and overly restrict them, and not validate their perspective, and kind of take over. They don't want that! They want to know the option of how to figure it out together," said Weiss.

Missed Markers

Cruz was expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for unspecified disciplinary reasons, officials said.

Cruz didn't seem to have any friends and usually just stuck to himself but "once given the opportunity, he liked to talk," said Brandon Minoff, a senior at the school, who was assigned to a group project with him during his sophomore year.

"He always just seemed very quiet and strange," Minoff told CNN's Don Lemon.

Minoff said he tried to avoid Cruz, "but when I got assigned to work with him, he started talking to me."

"He told me how he got kicked out of two private schools. He was held back twice. He had aspirations to join the military. He enjoyed hunting," the high school senior said.

Cruz appeared to have been involved in the high school's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program, as his name was listed under several awards in 2016, including academic achievement for maintaining an A grade in JROTC and B in remaining academic subjects, consistently presenting an outstanding appearance and outstanding conduct throughout school.

His family life

As for his family life, Cruz was adopted by Lynda Cruz, said Kathie Blaine, her cousin.

More than three months ago, on November 1, she died after battling the flu and then pneumonia, Blaine told CNN. Cruz's father had died more than a decade ago due to a heart attack.

Blaine said she had last seen Lynda Cruz about 20 years ago and had never met Nikolas Cruz.

When asked who Cruz lived with since both of his adoptive parents had died, she said: "Nikolas was on his own. He is 19. He was an adult on his own. It's really at this point, I don't understand it anymore than anyone else does. I can't believe it. I can't believe any of these school shootings. I never met him."

Cruz had been living with a friend's family since his mother died last year, Jim Lewis, a Ft. Lauderdale attorney who represents the family, told CNN affiliate WPEC.

"His mother had died back in November of last year, and this family took him in," Lewis told the news station.

Cruz was friends with the family's son who went to Majory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"They offered him a home and tried to help the kid out because he really didn't have any other place to stay." Lewis said.

The attorney spoke outside the home of his clients. The family is cooperating with the investigation and voluntarily let authorities search their residence and answered their questions, Lewis told CNN affiliate WPTV.

They gave authorities the keys to the home, turned in their cellphones and allowed them access to their gun safe. Authorities obtained a search warrant for Cruz's room.

The family isn't speaking to the media at this time, Lewis said.

"They are heartbroken. The kid that lives here goes to that school and knows many of these kids. He is just as heartbroken and shocked as everyone else. They cared for this kid and really wanted to help him," Lewis told WPTV.