Despite facing struggles of her own — money problems, alcohol and domestic abuse — Rocxanne Deschamps chose to honor her late friend’s wishes by opening her Lantana-area mobile home to the woman’s son, according to documents.
Nikolas Cruz’s tumultuous stay with Deschamps didn’t extend past more than a month. But his younger brother Zachary still lives with her.
Now Deschamps, 42, is faced with the realization she harbored, even for just a few weeks, the teen who admitted to killing 14 students and three adults at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, in the largest school shooting in Florida history.
Deschamps hasn’t spoken publicly since the massacre, but according to documents obtained and interviews conducted by The Palm Beach Post, her struggles long preceded her taking in 19-year-old Nikolas and, at the time, 17-year-old Zachary.
How she met the Cruz family
Deschamps and the Cruz family lived next door to one another in Parkland around 2009. They lived on Northwest 80th Terrace where homes sit on sprawling, manicured lawns, some behind locked gates. Neighbors don’t remember Deschamps. One woman said she remembers a blonde woman, but can’t say for sure.
But they remember the Cruz brothers and their mother, Lynda Cruz. And the boys were trouble back then, said Helen Pasciolla.
“She said all the time ‘I can’t handle them.’ I think she was very overwhelmed by everything,” said one neighbor who’s lived there for 25 years but did want to be named in this story. She said she would not let her son hang out with Nikolas or go into their house. “I saw he was a problematic child,” she said.
Deschamps lived next door to the Cruzes with her ex-fiance, Paul Gold, and his daughter. Gold declined to comment for this story.
Gold’s daughter said Lynda Cruz baby-sat her. She described Nikolas Cruz as “socially awkward.” The girl said Cruz was upset to learn he was adopted.
She said Nikolas couldn’t wait to get out of school. “He was bullied and stuff and didn’t like school very much.”
“He was the odd kid in school. The fish-out-of-water kid.”
“Then his mom passed away, and he really went downhill,” said the girl, now a Wellington resident.
After her husband’s death in 2004, Lynda Cruz said she wanted Deschamps to be her boys’ guardian. Deschamps hasn’t found physical proof of that though, and hasn’t found Cruz’s will, said her friend Chad Bennett.
Her move to Palm Beach County
When she lived in Parkland, Deschamps worked for Gold’s business, Palm Beach County-based Sports Surfaces International, which specializes in tennis court construction, according to its website.
Deschamps and Gold eventually moved to Palm Beach County. Facebook photos show the two in happier times gathered with friends. The two had a baby boy in 2012, records show.
But in October 2016 Deschamps left their suburban West Palm Beach home, which had an assessed value of $572,329 in 2017, according to records, for her dilapidated Lantana Cascade mobile home, which she said has a market value of $3,500. She blamed Gold’s verbal and physical outbursts, according to court records.
She filed for a restraining order against Gold, saying he threw a heavy vase at her head in front of their son. But a judge denied it for lack of evidence, records show.
Gold had filed for custody of their son, saying Deschamps suffered from severe health issues and alcoholism. He also filed an emergency motion for custody after Deschamps removed their son from daycare and wouldn’t let Gold speak to him. He told the court he wasn’t sure if the boy was even in the country and said he felt his son was in physical and emotional danger.
Deschamps, in turn, accused Gold of having a drug problem and leaving “bags of cocaine” around the house.
Child-neglect accusations flew back and forth, but authorities never were able to substantiate the claims.
The Department of Children and Families in February 2017 planned to tell Gold if he continued calling in false reports, the agency would pursue charges against him.
In mid-October the judge ruled that the parents share custody, but the accusations continued. In late October, Deschamps told authorities she thought Gold would use drugs while he had their son for the weekend. Again, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies found nothing to substantiate the claim.
Taking in a would-be killer
Lynda Cruz would die just a few days later on Nov. 1, and Deschamps would take in Nikolas and Zachary. Nikolas would stay only about a month — he wanted to bring a gun into her home and she refused, Bennett said. He left and moved in with James and Kimberly Snead, parents of one of Nikolas’ friends, in Parkland. That’s where Nikolas lived at the time of the massacre. Zachary, however, stayed with Deschamps.
While the Sneads have spoken often to the media since the tragedy, Deschamps has remained silent. And her neighbors are protective. One told a reporter trying to interview Deschamps to leave the Lantana Cascade community, which circles around a lake where some mobile homes are pristine, while others are in disrepair.
She “tried to do the right thing and it backfired,” the neighbor told The Palm Beach Post before disappearing into his home.
In a time where casting blame for the shooting is rampant, Deschamps hasn’t escaped the wrath on social media.
“So you just left a young teen that had no help to fend for himself. Someone that obviously needed love and help. Where did the money Linda (sic) give you go,” said one Facebook post.
Deschamps told the critics on Facebook she never received a cent from Lynda Cruz. She also wrote: “Violence and gun (sic) not accepted (in) my house.”
She later deleted the comments.
How Deschamps manages today is unclear. While her friend Bennett said she works for a company that employs yacht crews, court records show she’s had trouble finding a job. Deschamps — who is from Quebec, according to her Facebook page — wrote in court documents she cannot find legal employment. There also was a concern where her youngest son, who’s 5, would live if she was to be deported. The court ruled he would live with her.
Her life is still entwined with Nikolas Cruz. Besides his brother Zachary, now 18, still living with her, there’s a matter of the estate left by the siblings’ mother and her friend.
Who’ll end up with the Cruz estate?
Deschamps and Zachary Cruz have asked a probate judge to be named administrators of Lynda Cruz’s estate. How much it’s worth is a matter of contention. The shooter told the Sneads that his mother left him about $800,000. Court documents show the only asset is a 2010 Kia. Nikolas and Zachary are listed as beneficiaries of their mother’s estate. Probate attorney Audra Simovitch told The Palm Beach Post on Friday that once an administrator is appointed, that person or persons will be able to speak with banks and insurance companies to see what Lynda Cruz left behind.
While Nikolas checked a box in court documents that stated he is not interested in the estate, Simovitch said she couldn’t confirm that was accurate. She said Nikolas might have checked the wrong box and said she will have to discuss that with him.
Simovitch canceled a hearing regarding the petition for administration scheduled for Thursday. She said she plans to reschedule it and declined to say why she canceled it.
After his brother’s Valentine’s Day rampage, Zachary ended up under a mental health evaluation. He told investigators that as he drove to the mobile home with Deschamps after hearing of the shooting, he said, “I don’t want to be alive. I don’t want to deal with this stuff.” He denied wanting either to kill or harm himself.
Whether Zachary had attended school after his mother’s death is also in question. Before the shooting, in November, a social worker from Douglas High called police for a welfare check to report that Zachary hadn’t been to school since his mother died. The social worker knew he was living with Deschamps, according to records.
For the few weeks that Nikolas lived with Deschamps, he acted out several times, alerting the family enough to call for help, according to records.
Trouble in Lantana-area mobile home
Deschamps’ older son, Rock Deschamps, 22, called 911 to say Cruz might have hidden a gun in the backyard. Another time, Deschamps called Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, saying a young man who’d been staying with her since his mother died threatened to shoot Rock. And the family reported he punched walls and smashed items at the mobile home and got into a fistfight with the son.
About three months after Nikolas Cruz left — on Valentine’s Day — investigators would come back to the mobile home in connection to the Stoneman shooting.
“We need to have units to standby and keep a watch on the residence at 6469 Easter Cay Way. This is relative to the active shooter incident that we’re working in Parkland,” according to radio traffic between the Broward and Palm Beach County Sheriff's offices.
“Inside that … should be a Rocxanne Deschamps. Can you all have one of your units scoop them up and bring them to the Broward County Sheriff’s Public Safety building? That’s the guardian and the brother of the shooter.”
Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.