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Despite 'red flags,' brother of Parkland school shooter can move to Virginia, judge rules
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Despite 'red flags,' brother of Parkland school shooter can move to Virginia, judge rules

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A judge ruled Friday that the brother of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz can serve out his probation in Virginia, where his lawyer says a home, a job and educational opportunities await.

Zachary Cruz, 18, had to get permission from Broward County Judge Melinda Brown to move to Staunton because he is on six months’ probation for trespassing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Nikolas Cruz is accused of killing 17 people there in the Valentine’s Day shooting rampage.

Like his brother, Zachary Cruz has a history of mental health issues. As a teen, he frequently ran away from home and was convicted three times in 2016 for grand theft, petty theft and criminal mischief.

Zachary Cruz said he will leave Saturday for Virginia.

“You need to just take this moment and appreciate what they’re offering you,” the judge told him Friday. “Make wise choices.”

“I’m going to require you to grow up a little bit and understand there is no law violation that is a small violation,” the judge added.

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 Parkland shooting.

Deschamps told Zachary Cruz that 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.”

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. Prosecutors cast Cruz as infatuated with his older brother — and his notoriety, saying that he even floated the idea of starting a fan club for the school shooter.

“I wish I could say I was without trepidation,” Murphy said. She added: “The state of Florida wants nothing more than for Mr. Cruz to be successful.”

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.

The judge put Nexus on notice.

“I’m holding you responsible,” she told Terry Ann Johnson, Nexus’ director of services.

Information from the Miami Herald was used in this report.

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