The Riverhead aunt of the teenager charged in Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school believes his emotional problems may have been exacerbated by his parents’ deaths.
Barbara Kumbatovich told Newsday Thursday she met Nikolas Cruz and his brother, Zachary, only once, when they were 3 or 4 years old, after Linda and Roger Cruz moved from Farmingdale to Florida, where they adopted the pair.
As he grew up, Nikolas developed emotional issues. He had been doing community service after getting into some sort of trouble, Kumbatovich said, though she could not elaborate.
Records show Roger Cruz died in 2004, and the aunt said the boys were all her sister-in-law had and she tried to get them through the loss.
“She devoted a lot to their activities,” Kumbatovich said.
“She had concerns that they weren’t getting the right treatment. The younger son seemed to adjust better,” she said.
Since the killing of 17 people in Wednesday’s shooting, Kumbatovich has been asking herself what could have happened to her 19-year-old nephew. He has confessed to the shooting, police said.
She believes the young man’s emotional problems may have been “exacerbated” by his father’s death and then his mother’s passing.
Kumbatovich kept in touch with her sister-in-law and spoke to her weeks before her death from an upper respiratory illness in November at age 68.
She wonders if his mother’s death was the trigger that may have pushed Nikolas over the edge.
“Kids — I don’t think they realize the impact of death until after it happens,” Kumbatovich said.
Authorities said Nikolas was expelled from school for disciplinary problems and media reports say his former neighbors in Parkland and former schoolmates describe him as a moody, volatile teenager who was fascinated with guns and liked to hurt animals.
The Cruz brothers had been living with a family friend since their parents’ passing, the Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Kumbatovich told the Sun Sentinel her sister-in-law always wanted to have children and adopted later in life. “I think it was just something she really wanted to do,” Kumbatovich said.
“I know she had been having some issues with them, especially the older one,” she told the Florida paper. “He was being a problem.”
Kumbatovich told The Washington Post that her sister-in-law did her best to raise her troubled son. “I don’t think it had anything to do with his upbringing,” she said of the shooting. “It could have been the loss of his mom. I don’t know.”
With Chau Lam, Lisa Irizarry and William Murphy