Nicole Jackson Maldonado florida shooting, AK-47 assault rifle nearby Deltona Fla

A Hard Time Growing Up

Because of privacy laws, neither the Department of Juvenile Justice, which runs programs to keep kids from getting into trouble, nor the Department of Children and Families, which was in charge of Nicole’s mental health care, would talk about her case.

Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for the agency for children and families, said that the state was expanding adult mental health services to include more children. She also said that the state was trying to cut down on involuntary mental health commitments by improving preventive services and giving children and families a single point of contact.

“The goal of coordinating care for children is to get rid of systemic barriers to services, make it possible for organizations to share information, and make care more accessible,” she said in an email.

After the 2018 Parkland shooting, in which a troubled teen with a gun killed 17 students and teachers, the state put $28 million into mobile response and community action teams to help troubled kids. Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to use $23 million in coronavirus relief money in 2020 to expand mental health services. He also supported plans to add a “resiliency” curriculum to schools to help kids learn the mental health skills they need to deal with the problems that life throws at them.

But Nicole’s case was a puzzle from the start. From a very young age on, she seemed to resist any attempt to hold her back.

Nicole was born in Puerto Rico, but when she was 9 months old, her parents moved to the Orlando area.

People who knew her said that most of the time she was nice and did what she was told. But she had a very short fuse. She and her three brothers often got into fights that were so bad that the police had to break them up.

Elizabeth Maldonado, whose mother has a master’s degree in criminal justice and used to work as a college admissions director in Orlando, had a hard time keeping jobs because she was addicted to opioids and her family was in a lot of trouble.

They moved from motel to motel, house to house, and apartment to apartment. Because they were always making noise, hotels often kicked them out.

Elliot Maldonado, Nicole’s grandfather, said, “We had to move 34 times.” After Nicole’s parents split up, he moved in with his granddaughter.

At age 8, Nicole was kicked out of school for going after the teacher with scissors.

Ms. Maldonado once called the police to say that her daughter was starting fires, touching people in strange ways, and telling people at school that she was going to shoot her family. In a complaint to the Orlando Police Department, Ms. Maldonado said, “She is very violent and a terrible liar.” She said she was afraid for her life.

Nicole was 6 at the time.

This was one of the first times Nicole was seen by the police. Over the next eight years, she would be seen by the police about forty times. At least two dozen times, she was taken against her will to a mental hospital.

Nicole said, “They didn’t do anything for me.” “The next day, they’d send me home.”

Police records show that she was taking several medications, including antipsychotics, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder.

Nicole’s mother said that she begged child welfare officials for help, saying that her daughter was getting out of hand. “No one would listen to me when I begged them for help with her,” she said.

Social workers wrote in state records that Ms. Maldonado couldn’t take care of her kids and often didn’t show up for counseling or therapy appointments. People said Nicole was missing weeks at a time of school, even though her mother said she had done her best.

She said, “They like to point fingers, and they’re going to try to do it to me.”

When Nicole’s mother did not fight when the state took custody of her in 2019, state records show.

Nicole spent the next two years in a series of group homes. When she fought with the staff, she was sent to a mental hospital, sometimes more than once in the same week.

Nicole was caught setting big fires in an empty field in April 2021.

Body camera footage shows that she told the officer who arrested her, “It was fun!” “Nobody died.”

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