Before he murdered 17 students and faculty in Parkland, FL, on February 14, Nikolas Cruz already had a history of violence. He sent multiple threats to his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, like, "Im going to watch [sic] ypu bleed," and "[sic] iam going to shoot you dead." His social media history is full of violent threats like this. The white supremacist group Republic of Florida confirmed that Cruz participated in its activities.
Despite all this, a narrative exists that Cruz was bullied, and that if only kids had been nicer to him he wouldn't have hoarded military-grade weapons and carried out an atrocity. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a psychologist who focuses on parenting and children's social and emotional development, told Refinery29 that this is a classic case of victim-blaming, which is some people's preferred way of making sense of the world.
"Victim-blaming can be a way for people to feel safe," she said. "Because if we say, 'Well, I never do that and therefore this could never happen to me,' it preserves our fantasy of a just world where bad things only happen to bad people." This is similar, she said, to how people blame rape and sexual assault victims for wearing too-revealing clothes, being drunk, or walking alone late at night.
For this reason, some choose to believe that Emma González admitted to bullying Cruz when no such thing happened and that the Parkland kids are crisis actors; the same people spend their time mocking the activists on Twitter instead of engaging with their ideas. Some even go further to glorify the mass shooter as a martyr. A disturbing number of people are sending Cruz money, letters, and scantily clad photos in jail — behaviors experts say people tend to exhibit when they themselves have considered acting or acted in a violent way.
Many of the students deny bullying Cruz. In her speech following the shooting, González said that kids ostracized him because he threatened people, not because they thought they were too cool to hang out with him.
Isabelle Robinson, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times describing her first interaction with Cruz. She was in seventh grade, sitting in the cafeteria with friends, when she felt a sudden pain in her back. She turned around to see him smirking, his eyes "lit up with a sick, twisted joy as he watched me cry." She went on to peer-tutor him; during their sessions he would curse her out and stare at her chest.
On Sunday, many students retweeted a statement by their classmate Sheryl, a shooting survivor who wrote, "Let me say it loud and clear for you guys. NONE OF US BULLIED NICK CRUZ. Again. WE. NEVER. BULLIED. NICK. CRUZ. He was a bully. He was racist, sexist, homophobic and violent and he sold knives out of his lunchbox. And yet we treated him with respect. Stop blaming the victims." Sheryl detailed Cruz' violent tendencies (which students have said they reported to the FBI and the school), which included threatening girls with rape; hitting his brother, who is Black; calling people slurs; and showing his love for the Nazi party.
The idea that reaching out to other students can prevent violence has inspired the #WalkUpNotOut movement, which rose in opposition to the anti-gun violence National School Walkout. But this movement doesn't address the totality of the problem, and leaves kids responsible for the actions of their classmates.
It's tempting to think the solution is as simple as the crime itself. Cruz carried out his crime in six minutes and 20 seconds. But the factors that drive somebody to commit such a horrific act are incredibly complex, said Kennedy-Moore, and social science is simply not yet very good at predicting violent behavior in humans. "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," she said.
"We all want a simple answer for why this happened and how we can prevent it," said Kennedy-Moore. "But we can't say, all he needed was love and this would have been prevented — or even, all he needed was therapy and this would have been prevented."
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