FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. >> Mass murderer Nikolas Cruz is getting stacks of fan mail and love letters sent to the Broward County jail, along with hundreds of dollars in contributions to his commissary account.
Teenage girls, women and even older men are writing to the Parkland school shooter and sending photographs — some suggestive — tucked inside cute greeting cards and attached to notebook paper with offers of friendship and encouragement. Groupies also are joining Facebook communities to talk about how to help the killer.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel obtained copies of some of the letters showing that Cruz, who had few friends in the outside world, is now being showered with attention.
The attraction of women to prison bad boys echoes the fascination with killers like notorious cult leader Charles Manson. Lyle and Erik Menendez, the Beverly Hills brothers convicted in 1994 of murdering their parents, attracted a pair of brides while spending life in prison. So-called “Bundyphiles” sent bags of mail to Ted Bundy, the serial rapist-murderer who was electrocuted on Florida’s Death Row in 1989.
“I reserve the right to care about you, Nikolas!” wrote a Texas woman in neat blue script in a letter addressed to the jail’s Post Office Box in Fort Lauderdale. The letter was mailed six days after Cruz murdered 17 students and staff and injured 17 others with an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
The reverent note takes up all available space on the front and back of a kiddie-like greeting card showing a furry bunny holding binoculars looking out at the ocean. The inside of the card says, “Out of sight, but never out of mind.”
A teenager wrote on March 15: “I’m 18-years-old. I’m a senior in high school. When I saw your picture on the television, something attracted me to you.”
The letter was mailed from Texas and tucked inside an envelope covered with hand-drawn hearts and happy faces. “Your eyes are beautiful and the freckles on your face make you so handsome.” She goes on to describe herself as white with big, brown eyes. “I’m really skinny and have 34C sized breasts.” She ends the letter with three preschool-rated jokes about gummy bears and peanut butter.
A woman from Chicago enclosed nine suggestive photos, including a shot of cleavage, another in a skimpy bikini eating a Popsicle and a tight shot of her backside as she bent over. Another girl sent photos with Hello Kitty Snapchat filters.
An 18-year-old from New York wrote: “No one else is dealing w/your demons, meaning maybe defeating them could be the beginning of your meaning, friend. I know you could use a good friend right now. Hang in there and keep your head up.” The letter closes with hearts colored in pink ink.
“There’s piles of letters,” said Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz. “In my 40 years as public defender, I’ve never seen this many letters to a defendant. Everyone now and then gets a few, but nothing like this.”
Not all of the letters are from women. One card with a cat on the front is from a New York man sporting a bushy, gray, mustache. He enclosed photos of himself behind the wheel of his white, 1992 Nissan convertible.
Cruz has not seen the mail because he is on suicide watch, Finkelstein said. Customarily, inmates on suicide watch are locked in bare cells by themselves.
The jail opens inmates’ mail (except legal mail), according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office inmate handbook. Obscene mail or mail deemed to be a safety or security threat to staff is returned to the sender, the handbook says.
“We read a few religious ones to him that extended wishes for his soul and to come to God,” Finkelstein said, “but we have not and will not read him the fan letters or share the photos of scantily-clad teenage girls.”
Finkelstein said he worries “everyday boys and girls are starting to view him in an elevated way, looking up to his fame and notoriety.”
“The letters shake me up because they are written by regular, everyday teenage girls from across the nation,” he said. “That scares me. It’s perverted.”
Jail workers have been busy screening letters, photos, greeting cards, postcards and the occasional book sent to Cruz, jail records show.
Cruz requested a Bible, according to jail records released by the Broward Sheriff’s Office, but it was denied because of the suicide watch, the public defender said.
Cruz also now has $800 deposited into his growing commissary account, apparently sent by fans, Finkelstein said. From Feb. 15 through March 5, $630 was deposited, jail records show. The county deducts $8 per day for “subsistence fees.”
Inmates can use the commissary account to buy snacks, personal hygiene products, radios and coffee.
Cruz’s fan club also extends to Facebook, with several groups of empathizers forming to talk about his case and how they can help him avoid the death penalty.
On the “Nikolas Cruz — the First Victim,” a now-secret group that until recently had 300 members, one young woman solicited photos for a collage to send to the killer. “I want him to see how many people love and care for him and all the beautiful faces,” she posted.
The page features a photo of Cruz wearing a baseball cap and glasses along with the hashtags #StopBullying and #OurBoy #NikFam.
The group describes its mission as “in complete support of Nikolas Cruz. Whether or not he did this, he was completely failed. He deserved to get the help he needs and he deserves a fair trial.”
“I want you all to know that Nikolas knows about us and he had the biggest smile on his face when he was told that we all support him,” a female commenter wrote on March 16. “Keep the letters coming because he can’t wait to finally get them.” She wrote that “hate mail is filtered out so no one can upset our boy!!! Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate.”
It’s unclear how Cruz would be aware of the group, but when Zachary Cruz visited his older brother in jail, he was overheard telling the killer that he’s now very popular with the ladies.
“(Zachary) has been heard and observed discussing how popular his brother is now. That his face is everywhere and his name is national,” Broward Assistant State Attorney Sarahnell Murphy said in court after the younger Cruz’s arrest for trespassing at the Parkland school on March 20.
“There is discussion of starting some sort of pen pal or fan club and how many girls he’s capable of attracting — referring to his brother, Nikolas,” Murphy said.
Nikolas Cruz “is a magnet for women who want to save him,” California forensic psychiatrist and author Carole Lieberman said. “He looks like such a sad and lonely figure.”
Lieberman has analyzed Cruz and wrote a book about groupies of incarcerated killers, “Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live with Them and When to Leave Them.”
“Women who become pen pals and groupies of killers in prison are those who have had a dysfunctional relationship with their dad that has made them feel unlovable,” she said. These women have low self-esteem, she said, and “become imbued with the killer’s power.”
A public Facebook group, “Nikolas Cruz for Punishment or Apologize,” has 1,000 members. “Save (N)ikolas Cruz don’t let him die,” one of the page’s moderators wrote. “And how can I visit him in jail, I want to talk to him and let him know he’s not alone and there are some people that care for him,” she wrote.
Cruz’s Facebook supporters, mostly female, say they sympathize with Cruz because he was bullied, was diagnosed with disabilities and mental illness, and was orphaned.
He’s referred to in some posts as “our Nikolas” and described as “cute.”
Some of those same Facebook members are also selling Nik Cruz merchandise.
One supporter who uses the hashtag #NikFam is selling $2 purple bracelets on eBay.com, declaring “Justice for Nik.” The seller lists a litany of reasons for supporting the confessed mass killer, including that “we believe EVERYONE is worthy of love.”
T-shirts declaring “I stand with Nikolas Cruz” also were briefly offered online.
On the website PrisonTalk.com, would-be Cruz pen pals are inquiring about writing to him.
“I feel bad for him and after reading about him I want to get to know him so he’s not as lonely,” one person wrote. “(I don’t know) why I feel like this because he committed an awful crime I can’t help it but I want to talk to him.”
On March 12, the Broward state attorney’s office announced it would seek the death penalty in the case and listed seven “aggravating factors” that a jury could use to justify ordering Cruz’s execution, including the “heinous, atrocious and cruel” nature of the crime and the “cold, calculated and premeditated” manner in which it was carried out.
Finkelstein said his office believes Cruz should plead guilty to 34 consecutive life sentences to avoid a drawn-out trial and appeal process, which could last 20 or more years.
“It’s important that the community understand that as this case continues, the awfulness will continue to spread,” Finkelstein said. “Everything about this case is awful and evil.”