Melissa Goldsmith weeps outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the February 2018 massacre. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Just hours after a gunman opened fire inside a Parkland, Fla., high school, killing 17 people and wounding 17 more, police sat down to speak to the suspected attacker.

He confessed to carrying out the massacre, police said. But he went on to say more than that, saying during a lengthy interview that for years he had heard a “demon” in his head giving him directions.

When asked what the voice told him to do, the suspected gunman said: “Burn. Kill. Destroy.”

The detail emerged Monday in a transcript of the lengthy police interview with Nikolas Cruz, 19, in the aftermath of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While authorities had previously said Cruz admitted that “he was the gunman who entered the school campus … and began shooting students,” the newly-released transcript shows for the first time much of what he told police the day of the Feb. 14 massacre, and sheds light on his state of mind after the bloodshed.

In the 217-page transcript, much of which is redacted, the suspected attacker told Detective John Curcio of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office that before the Parkland massacre, he had planned to go to a park and start shooting people. He described encountering police before because he was “shooting animals,” recounted trying to kill himself before the attack because of his “loneliness” and said he used Xanax and marijuana.

The interview lasts nearly 12 hours, according to the transcript. At some points, the suspected attacker appears to talk to himself. At other moments, he contradicts his earlier remarks. He recalled never telling anyone about the voices but later acknowledged that he told his brother and, possibly, a girl he had dated. He asked the police to bring him a psychologist.

When asked by Curcio early in the interview whether he wanted water, he said: “I don’t deserve it.” He described hearing the male voice — one that told him “to hurt people” — every day, adding that it got worse after his mother died a few months before the massacre.

At least some of what the suspected attacker said about this voice appeared to be redacted from the transcript. In the portions made public, he is captured saying the voice ordered him to kill animals, told him to buy the AR-15 used in the attack and directed him to take an Uber to the school. He also said the voice spoke to him the morning of the attack; his response when asked what the voice told him that day is redacted.

Eventually, the police detective tells the suspect he does not believe his claims.

“Personally, I think you’re using the demon as an excuse,” Curcio said at one point, according to the transcript. “You could have stopped the demon any time you want. You didn’t want to stop the demon.”

The suspect argued, seeming to get agitated and insisting that Curcio was wrong. At one point, when Curcio left the room, the suspect — apparently alone — is recorded saying, “I want to die.”

When Curcio leaves the room at another moment, the suspected attacker repeats over and over: “Why didn’t he kill me? Why didn’t he kill me? Why didn’t he kill me?”

Late in the interview, his brother Zachary Cruz is brought in. He told the suspect that “people think you’re a monster” and asked, “Why did you do this?”

The suspect responded: “I’m sorry, dude.” The rest of his response to the question is redacted.

After the Stoneman Douglas massacre, police found the suspected attacker in a neighborhood more than a mile from the campus. The suburban school had been transformed into a crime scene that even veteran law enforcement officials said was particularly gruesome. According to authorities, before his arrest, the suspect dropped his gun and vest and walked off campus, blending in with the students who were fleeing.

Attorneys for the suspected gunman have acknowledged his guilt, focusing their efforts instead on arguing that he should be spared a death sentence and offering to have him plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have ignored these offers, saying they will seek the death penalty for the former Stoneman Douglas student, who was indicted on 17 counts of murder in the first degree and  17 counts of attempted murder.

“This statement is just more proof of how severely damaged and broken a human being he is,” Howard Finkelstein, the Broward County public defender representing him, wrote in an email Monday. “He is the most damaged and broken human being I have encountered in 40 years of doing this type of work. Everybody knew it.”

The transcript’s release, coming just days before students begin a new school year at Stoneman Douglas, is the latest disclosure officials have made since the massacre in Broward County, which set off a wave of investigations into how authorities reacted to the shooting itself and the litany of warning signs that preceded it.


Students and their family members join hands outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the days after the attack. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Since the attack, authorities have released footage of the law enforcement response at the school, made public some 911 calls from the attack and published a timeline of what unfolded. In May, officials released video footage showing the 19-year-old suspect announcing his goal of becoming a school shooter and gloating about the infamy he would gain.

Survivors of the massacre and their relatives have asked media groups not to give the alleged attacker the attention he described, echoing what others have said about limiting coverage of mass killers after previous attacks.

Officials who released the transcript  Monday will also make public an edited video of the interview this week. Last month, a judge in South Florida ordered authorities to release both the transcript and the video, albeit with some portions removed from public view.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer wrote in a July 26 order that “no substance of any confession that [Cruz] made to police during the instant interrogation is subject to public disclosure” — but she added that there were other parts of the statement “not considered” to be the substance of a confession.

The suspect’s attorneys argued against releasing any part of the statement, saying it would keep him from being able to get a fair trial before an impartial jury, while state officials offered a transcript for potential release with some parts redacted. Scherer said a few things they redacted should be released but otherwise agreed with what the state suggested and ordered the transcript’s disclosure.

This story has been updated since it was first published at 5:07 p.m.

Further reading: 

A timeline of the accused Parkland shooter’s troubled path

The FBI said it failed to act on a tip about the suspected Florida school shooter’s potential for violence

Broward Sheriff’s Office releases video showing deputy standing outside Parkland school during massacre