Hours of video show Nikolas Cruz confessing to the mass shooting, crying with his brother, and repeating "Kill me."
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When the Parkland shooter was done confessing to the slaughter of 17 people at his former high school, there was just one person he wanted to see — his younger brother Zachary.
The killer started to cry, then broke down, sobbing loudly when he finally got to talk to his sibling. Zachary said he loved him. As they hugged, Nikolas Cruz wailed.
"You really messed up this time ... no one can get you out of this, dog," Zachary told him.
Hours of video released Wednesday show Cruz confessing to the mass shooting in a wide-ranging interrogation by a Broward Sheriff's Office detective. Dressed in a blue hospital gown and loose pants, he spoke at length about a supposed demon voice inside his head that encouraged him to hurt other people and cut himself.
Cruz sat slumped in a chair, barefooted, with one leg shackled to a hook on the floor, and spoke in a soft, halting voice for much of the interview. When he leaned forward, the gown gaped open exposing his naked back.
The first time he was left alone in the room, the shooter made the shape of a gun with his fingers, put it to his head, his mouth and his chest and acted like he was shooting himself.
The nearly five hours of formal questioning ended when the detective expressed more and more skepticism about whether the "demon" was just an excuse: Cruz asked for an attorney.
Cruz had repeatedly threatened to hurt himself. Left alone in the room with the cameras still recording, he talked out loud to himself, cursing and saying, "Kill me." But he also asked several times if he could see his brother.
It may have been a ploy by investigators to see what Cruz, 19, would tell his 18-year-old brother. It may have been done out of genuine concern to calm Cruz — who appeared to be trying to scratch and cut his arm when he was alone — before he was taken to jail.
Whatever the motive, the two brothers got a small taste of what everyone who lost a child or loved one in the rampage wishes for — one last 15-minute conversation, some hugs and a chance to say "I love you."
Ryan Petty, father of slain student Alaina Petty, said he read some of the interview transcript but has not viewed the video.
What he read didn't change his impression of Cruz, and reminders of Feb. 14 are "painful," he said. "I don't like to think about that day."
What Petty read, and what others saw on the video, convinced him: "It's clear to me we've got a sick individual that I think, at the time, was coming to grips with what he had just done."
Petty said he thought the exchange between the brothers was an investigative strategy. "I assume that was an investigative technique to see if Cruz would share any information with his brother that he wouldn't share with the detective."
Prosecutors censored the first 60 or so words exchanged by the brothers when Zachary was brought into the interrogation room.
Their first audible exchange focused on their deceased mom, Lynda, who adopted them as newborns from the same birth mother — but different fathers — in late 1998 and early 2000. Their adoptive dad died when they were young. Lynda died of pneumonia three months before the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"What do you think mom would think right now if she was ... ?" Zachary asked.
"She would cry," both brothers echoed.
"People think you're a monster now," Zachary told him, like a messenger from the devastated world outside the interrogation room.
"A monster?" Cruz asked.
"You don't have anything and you're not acting like yourself. Like, why? ... This is not who you are. ... Why did you do this? ... Don't even laugh at me," Zachary said.
"I'm sorry, dude," Cruz replied, though the redactions on the video and transcript made it hard to decipher whether he was apologizing for laughing or for fatally gunning down 17 people and injuring 17 others.
The relationship between Nikolas, 19, and Zachary, 18, was often tormented.
When he was in middle school, the school shooter slept with scissors and knives because he was fearful of his brother, their mother had told a psychiatrist. Cruz, who was diagnosed with developmental delays and attended special education classes for much of his schooling, said Zachary had called him names and bullied him for much of their lives.
But as they spoke in the interrogation room, accompanied by Detective John Curcio, Zachary reminded Cruz of a conversation they had in the hospital when their mom died in November.
"I told you when we were walking down the hallway that it's just me and you and I had your back," Zachary said. "You probably felt like you had nobody but I, I care about you. I literally would pull my heart out for you."
Zachary said he knew he made it look like he hated Cruz when they were growing up but explained that he just "didn't want to look weak."
Despite the atrocious crimes he knew Cruz had committed, Zachary assured him that he loved him and that he understood how they grew up.
The detective allowed them to hug when Zachary asked for permission.
"I'm sorry," Cruz said. "I love you."
Though Zachary is the younger sibling, his tone was fatherly as he lectured Cruz.
"You're only 19, dude," he told Cruz. "You know how many years you had ahead of you? You know how many years you had? Years? You're stuck — you're still stuck in your teenage mindset and you did this dumb s---. You're not thinking about your future."
Though Cruz had repeatedly expressed a desire to die during the interrogations, it wasn't clear if he realized at that stage that his fate will involve either the death penalty or spending the rest of his life in prison.
But Zachary seemed to have grasped the enormity of the tragedy — and the consequences for his killer brother. He apologized for being "a dumb jerk," for ostracizing him and making fun of him.
When Zachary made it clear he was concerned that Cruz would also take his own life, Cruz responded: "I'm a failure, dude."
"You're not right in the head," Zachary said. Though his words were harsh, his tone was kind and understanding.
During their 15-minute talk, all recorded on video, they spoke about the big issues, but also the small. They reminisced about trips to the pool when they were kids and their pet dogs, Kobe and Maizy.
Cruz said "people" had told him to delete his Instagram account, but didn't elaborate when his brother asked him why he appeared to have dropped out of his various social media accounts.
Before Zachary arrived, Cruz had told the detective that his family had made him feel worthless and said: "I feel like the voice cares more about me than my brother (does)."
As the brothers talked, Zachary struggled to summarize their differences.
"I like to skate," he said. "You like to — guns. You like guns."
As Curcio tried to wrap up the brothers' talk, Zachary seemed desperate to extract a promise that Cruz would not kill himself: "Just don't — don't hurt yourself ... Please do not kill yourself."
Zachary urged him to "try to find God" and "be strong for me."
The shooter replied: "I'll do it for you."