Just moments after finding out his older brother had slaughtered 17 people in Parkland in February, Zachary Cruz’s mind flooded with memories— memories of all the red flags he, along with law enforcement and state officials had missed.
His brother's social isolation stood out, Cruz told the Miami Herald.
On Thursday, just months after being arrested twice himself, Cruz is slated to announce the start of his anti-bullying non-profit organization and 24/7 hotline. He's scheduled to appear on Good Morning America at 8 a.m. and hold a news conference at 1:30 p.m.
Dubbed “We Isolate No-one,” the foundation’s goal is to form local chapters in middle schools and high schools across the nation, offering students a safe place to seek help in regards to bullying and isolation.
Cruz understands many people, especially in Parkland, don't want to hear from the brother of Florida's worst school shooter. He knows that the wounds are deep, raw, and will never heal. And he wants to do nothing that suggests that anyone but his brother is to blame for what happened. But he hopes to find some solace after the nightmare that destroyed so many lives on Feb. 14, 2018. Even if he is criticized, he feels an obligation to try.
“I can state very clearly that our schools all across the country have ticking time bombs in them. Bullying leads to abuse and violence, and that leads to isolation,” Cruz said Wednesday. “If we don’t do something, parents will keep sending their kids to school with the next Columbine shooter, Sandy Hook shooter and Parkland shooter.”
According to Cruz, the toll-free 24/7 hotline — 1-800-329-5507 — will be open to any student who feels isolated or bullied. Intake counselors, who are trained to handle crisis situations, will log and report each call.
Cruz’ campaign is currently being funded by Nexus Services, the Virginia-based company that Cruz is currently in the care of. According to its website, Nexus helps people rebuild their lives after incarceration.
“These reports will be taken and shared with school officials and WIN school chapters,” said Nexus CEO Mike Donovan. “Bullying reports will be shared by WIN to school chapters and school officials. Each case will be reviewed after seven days from receipt of the concern. When officials confirm that the concern has been addressed, the case file will be closed. When WIN cannot confirm a resolution, the case will be referred to Nexus Derechos Humanos Attorneys Inc. for investigation and possible legal action.”
Cruz says the hope is that schools will get kids help. Whether that's with a guidance counselor, therapy, the local chapter or if needed, get law enforcement involved.
On Wednesday, the non-profit opened positions for state chapter presidents. Candidates must be under 21 and able to travel across their state.
“If we don’t do something to bring isolated kids out of the shadows, if we don’t do something to help those kids build community and find ways to fit in, if we don’t teach and train kids to handle these problems when they see them everyday, then we cant be surprised when the next bomb goes off,” Cruz said. “We have to put out the fuse before they light the match.”
Early last month, Cruz was arrested for violating his probation by driving without a license. Two months before that, and just weeks after Nikolas murdered 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he was arrested for trespassing on school property. He was placed on a six-month probation.
About a month ago, a Broward judge allowed Cruz, who is still under court supervision for his trespassing charge, to transfer his probation to Virginia.His probation finishes in August, which is when he plans on visiting schools.
“I know not everybody is going to like me because of what my brother did, but it would be stupid to let that get in the way of making this happen. I'm not Nik.” Cruz said. “My brother, he was isolated from everybody. He didn’t fit in and nobody tried to be his friend or understand him."
One memory sticks with Cruz.
During middle school, Nikolas and the other special needs students would be required to enter the school bus first and be harnessed into their seats.
It made him different. He was taunted and teased.
"I want people to walk up to kids like him and try to understand them.”