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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Now who will listen to Nikolas Cruz?

John Eggers

What do we know about Nikolas Cruz? We know he was 19 years old. We know he liked to have guns around. We know he was a discipline problem in school. We know he attended several schools. We know he lost his biological mother and his father at an early age and he lost his stepmother last November from pneumonia. We know he lived in a foster home type setting with James and Kimberly Snead. They treated him like one of the family.

We know his classmates were very much aware of his bizarre behavior, as were some of his teachers and even the FBI. Some of his teachers considered him to be very quiet and a loner who didn't do too much in class. We know he had a racist attitude. We know he didn't have many friends. We know he was expelled from school as a result of an incident with his girlfriend. We know that he did not have his high school diploma.

We know he didn't shoot himself like so many other mass murderers. We know he will spend the rest of his life in jail, which could amount to 50 to 60 to 70 years before he dies in his cell. He will have lots of time to think about what he did and who he is. My question is, "Now who will listen to Nik Cruz?"

Many would say this boy was just bad. He was evil. No words can describe his dastardly deed. I have known some young kindergarten elementary age kids that spit or who like to bite or who just liked to throw things but their behavior was kind of run of the mill for early elementary age kids. Eventually their behavior changed. But I have never known a young child who was really, really bad or evil. How do kids get that way? Young kids go to school filled with excitement and joy. How do kids end up being a "Nik Cruz?"

Let me give you an example of how a seemingly good kid can become a "bad" kid. I put "bad" in quotes because I hate to refer to any kid as being naturally bad. Things happen to them along the way that makes them act badly.

I will call the boy in my story "Joey." Joey was in fourth grade. He probably should have been in fifth or sixth grade. He had been in dozens of schools and was literally running out of schools to attend according to his grandmother with whom he stayed. He had an anger issue, which when tapped, became volatile.

Because he was not part of the community where he was now going to school, kids teased him—not all kids, just some. Kids can be cruel. Joey did his best to resist their teasing. During recess he and I would play catch with the football. He was polite and courteous to me as he was to most adults plus he had some athletic ability and wanted to do well. This was the good side to Joey. One day the teasing got the best of him and he began to throw rocks at the school and at anyone who passed him on the playground. I went outside to deal with the problem.

He picked up a 2x4 and began coming after me with it. I walked up, speaking to him calmly and telling him he didn't have to do this and took the piece of wood away. Then he went to a nearby dumpster and found a 4-foot, 2-inch steel pipe and came after me. I again talked him down and at the same time told a teacher to call 911. He implored me not to call the police but I had no choice. His grandmother heard about the incident and because she worked nearby came to the school. About the time the police arrived, Joey took off running, now being chased by his grandmother who was yelling at him. It was not a pretty sight.

The police had heard about Joey and as he circled around and back to the school he ran up to me, hugged me and asked not to let the police take him away. The police, of course, did. I went over to the school, sat down on the steps and cried. Now who would listen to Joey? I never saw him again. I often wonder where he is and if he is still living.

There are lots of Joey's in this world and, unfortunately, more like Nik Cruz. I think they are all crying for help. They desperately want someone to pay attention to them. In a way, I think Nik Cruz had this perverse notion that if he killed his classmates and teachers, then someone would notice him. And, of course, we did, but way too late. Now who will listen to Nik Cruz?

We can talk about stricter gun laws (these will certainly help) and greater background checks and more mental health counselors and maybe all of these combined and more will help, but good kids who do bad things are as much a community issue as a societal issue.

"This kid was going through a lot and... I'm not defending anything he did. Please don't think that. Absolutely not. He was broken and there were so many things that we are now learning. We didn't see this in our house. We were trying to help out a depressed kid who lost his mother," Kimberly Snead was quoted as saying.

Minnesota Public Radio interviewed the Denver Public Schools Director of Counseling, Smantha Haviland. She was also a counselor at Columbine High School at the time of their shooting. She commented how important the role of the total community is in the overall scheme of things. Schools can't solve the problem alone. The FBI can't solve the problem. One family can't solve the problem but collectively the total community can. Who now will listen to Nik Cruz? We now know the answer—all of us have to and, more important, we can't stop listening.

Riddle: Knock knock? Who is there? Boo. Boo who? Don't cry! There are a lot more jokes like this. I'm sorry, but when I think of Nik Cruz and the innocent victims and kids like Joey, all of us have to cry.

100 percent graduation rate

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Here's some tips on how you can help us achieve that goal:

1. Remind your kids and grandkids how important it is to be a good and respectful student. Tell them about the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2. Remind young people to be on time for school. Being late for school shows a disrespect for others.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.