Nikolas Cruz once went on a “killing spree” of all the toads in the neighbourhood after his family dog died, according to courtroom testimony from his former neighbour.
Paul Gold, who lived next door to the Cruz family from 2008 to 2011, testified on Wednesday that he recalled a time when one of the Cruz family’s dogs died because it had eaten a toad.
In response, Mr Gold said Cruz “went on a killing spree”.
“He tried to kill every toad in the neighbourhood,” he said.
Mr Gold lived next door to the Cruz family in Parkland from 2008 to 2011, with his then-fiance Roxcanne Deschamps, his daughter Isabella and Ms Deschamps’ son Rock Deschamps.
Mr Gold and Ms Deschamps moved out of the home in 2011 but stayed in contact with the Cruz family, with Cruz and his brother Zachary sometimes going to visit.
But, Mr Gold said he later had a falling out with Cruz’s late adoptive mother Lynda over an iPad that went missing – and which he believed Zachary had stolen.
When Lynda died in November 2017, Mr Gold said he was no longer in a relationship with Ms Deschamps, with the couple going through a far from amicable split and custody battle over their child Tyler.
Cruz and Zachary initially moved in with Ms Deschamps after their mother died but Cruz moved out of the home just one month later after the police were called over an alleged fight with Ms Deschamps’ son.
Three months after Lynda’s death – on Valentine’s Day 2018 – Cruz travelled to Marjory Stoneman Douglas Stoneman High School armed with an AR-15. The then-19-year-old stalked the corridors of the freshman building, murdering 17 students and staff members.
Mr Gold testified that Cruz had been “very upset” that so few people had shown up for his mother’s funeral.
He said he had called Cruz a few times following Lynda’s death “to see how he was doing” and also took the then-19-year-old to her funeral.
Just five people attended the service: Mr Gold, his ex Rocxanne, Cruz, Zachary and Mr Gold’s daughter.
“He was very upset, he asked me why is nobody here? I told him when we made the publication in the newspaper that we had put the wrong date,” he said.
“I was lying to him… But he seemed extremely upset… He said he believed too much smoking and too much drinking killed her.”
When Mr Gold later heard about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman on 14 February 2018, he said he called Cruz to warn him to stay safe – not realising that the 19-year-old was actually responsible for the massacre.
“When I heard about the shooting, I called Nik to warn him there was a shooter and to be careful,” he said.
“I couldn’t even imagine it was him.”
It is not clear if Cruz answered the call and – if he did – what was said.
When Mr Gold found out Cruz had carried out the attack, he said he “started screaming”.
Mr Gold said he planned to never speak to Cruz again but, as time went on, he said he has accepted his calls.
“He’s called me a few times,” he said.
Under cross-examination, Mr Gold was grilled about jailhouse phone calls with Cruz where they discussed making a movie about the mass murderer’s life.
Jurors heard the dramatic audio, from two separate calls made in August 2021, where Mr Gold tells the Parkland shooter that he knows a “famous producer” who has worked on movies with stars including Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks.
Mr Gold then goes on to say that he is “amazed” that no one has approached Cruz to create a movie about his life.
“You know talking about movies, I’m amazed somebody hasn’t approached you about making a movie,” he is heard saying.
Mr Gold brings the idea up again in another call. Cruz responds by saying that he is uneasy with he suggestion.
“I don’t know if I’d want that to be honest with you,” he says.
Last October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder over the Valentine’s Day killings.
Jurors will now decide whether to sentence him to life in prison without parole or to death.