Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with 17 counts of murder for the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is getting fan mail, seχually suggestive photographs of young women, money, and more sent to jail.
According to the Sun Sentinal, which obtained copies of some of the letters, the 19-year-old is “being showered with attention” while being held at the Broward County jail. Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein estimated that Cruz has received between 100 and 200 pieces in the mail since he arrived in mid-February. “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,” he told the paper.
While the jail, which screens all incoming missives (minus legal documents), has read Cruz some of the religious letters, Finkelstein noted that “we have not and will not read him the fan letters or share the photos of scantily-clad teenage girls.”
Cruz currently has about $800 in his commissary account, and Finkelstein shared that this has been filled, in part, by his fanbase. To raise funds, some supporters have gone so far as to create merchandise, including a $2 purple bracelet with the words “Justice for Nik” and T-shirts that read “I stand with Nikolas Cruz.”
However for Finkelstein, it’s the letters that shake him up the most because “they are written by regular, everyday teenage girls from across the nation. … That scares me. It’s perverted.” Finkelstein added that he worries “everyday boys and girls are starting to view him in an elevated way, looking up to his fame and notoriety.”
Gaining this celebrity status most likely served as one of Cruz’s motivators for perpetuating the massacre. “This love for notoriety and the desire to get it by being an anti-hero or villain goes back to Bonnie and Clyde, Jesse James, and Jack the Ripper,” Sherry Hamby, PhD, a research professor of psychology at Sewanee, the University of the South, and the founding editor of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Violence, told Yahoo Lifestyle.
“There are lots of figures from our past that have gone down in history in this way and proven that it’s a successful way to go down in history,” Hamby explained. “The desire to have fame in and of itself is not unusual or pathological, but there’s definitely this subgroup of the population who want to get it any way they can, and violence is not off the table for them.”
The media, Yahoo included, is partly to blame for the accused shooter’s fame. A problem resulting from reporting on mass shootings is, according to Hamby, that the tragedies have been proven to act “like an infectious disease, and have elements of what’s known as social contagion.” Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of so much attention is exposure to high-risk, vulnerable youth. And for those who are experiencing a lot of rejection, alienation, and family problems, associating with figures like Cruz can have a “titillating” effect. While most individuals respond to tragedies like the one at Parkland with horror, distress, or frustration, a person psychologically at risk can yield a completely different response.
“It’s just hard to even begin to express how different their reaction could be,” Hamby noted. “They see this, and it looks like power, a way of showing everybody. It may remind them of things they’ve seen in other violent media or video games and is now made real to them, and they might have a very positive response.”
Research is starting to emerge revealing how important it is, even in milder cases, how to disperse information during events like mass shootings, Hamby said, adding, “You have to be careful in how you talk about this so it doesn’t cause some to fantasize and project themselves into the world of the bad guy.”
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