US media outlets published the first pictures of the 19-year-old gunman who allegedly opened fire on Wednesday at a Florida high school he had previously been expelled from, killing 17 people.
The violence had erupted shortly before dismissal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 72 km north of Miami. Live television footage showed students streaming out of the building as dozens of police and emergency services personnel swarmed the area.
The gunman was identified as Nikolas Cruz, who previously attended the school and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news briefing hours later.
“It’s a horrific situation," Broward Country Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters separately. The gunman surrendered to police without a struggle, Israel said. “It’s catastrophic,” he said. "There really are no words.”
Twelve of the dead were killed inside the school building, two others just outside, one more on the street and two other victims died of their injuries at a hospital, Israel said. He said the victims comprised a mixture of students and adults.
It was the 18th shooting in a US school so far this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. That tally includes suicides and incidents when no one was injured, as well as the January incident when a 15-year-old gunman killed two students at a Benton, Kentucky, high school.
More than five years have passed since a gunman killed 20 first graders and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, stirring the long US debate about gun rights, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
He loved guns
The man accused of opening fire at a Florida high school on Wednesday, killing 17 people, was a troubled former student who loved guns and was expelled for disciplinary reasons, police and former classmates said.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arrested about an hour after a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters. The sheriff’s office earlier spelled the suspect’s name as Nikolaus.
Cruz, who had been expelled from the school for reasons that have not been made public, was found with multiple ammunition magazines and one AR-15-style rifle, Israel said. “We already began to dissect his websites and the things on social media that he was on and some of the things that came to mind are very, very disturbing,” Israel said.
Chad Williams, 18, a senior at Stoneman Douglas High school, remembered Cruz as a troubled classmate from when they attended middle school together. He said Cruz would set off the fire alarm, day after day, and finally got expelled in the eighth grade. More recently, Williams saw Cruz carrying several publications about guns when they ran into each other at the high school. Williams thought Cruz was there to pick up a younger sibling.
“He was crazy about guns,” Williams told Reuters, speaking by the side of the road near the high school. “He was kind of an outcast. He didn’t have many friends. He would do anything crazy for a laugh, but he was trouble.”
Jillian Davis, 19, said she was in a school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps with Cruz in the 9th grade. She remembered him as a quiet and shy young man who would almost change personality when angry. He talked a lot about guns and knives but no one took him seriously, she told Reuters.
‘Disturbing’ social media posts
The suspect is a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media before the shooting spree that killed at least 17 people, according to a law enforcement official and former schoolmates.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons.” “I don’t know the specifics,” the sheriff said.
However, Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was expelled last school year after a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. She said Cruz had been abusive to his girlfriend. School officials said Cruz was attending another school in Broward County after his expulsion.
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr said during an interview with CNN that the shooter was getting treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but that he hadn’t been back to the clinic for more than a year. “It wasn’t like there wasn’t concern for him,” Furr said.
“We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren’t connected ... Most teachers try to steer them toward some kind of connections. ... In this case, we didn’t find a way to connect with this kid,” Furr said. Israel said investigators were dissecting the suspect’s social media posts.
“And some of the things that have come to mind are very, very disturbing,” he added without elaborating. Daniel Huerfano, a student who fled Wednesday’s attack, said he recognized Cruz from an Instagram photo in which Cruz posed with a gun in front of his face. Huerfano recalled Cruz as a shy student and remembered seeing him walking around with his lunch bag.
“He was that weird kid that you see ... like a loner,” he added. Dakota Mutchler, a 17-year-old junior, said he used to be close friends with Cruz but hadn’t seen him in more than a year following his expulsion from school. “He started progressively getting a little more weird,” Mutchler said.
Mutchler recalled Cruz posting on Instagram about killing animals and said he had talked about doing target practice in his backyard with a pellet gun. “He started going after one of my friends, threatening her, and I cut him off from there,” Mutchler said.
“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” Mutchler said. Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he did not know of any threats posed by Cruz to the school.
“Typically you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there,” Runcie said. “I would be speculating at this point if there were, but we didn’t have any warnings. There weren’t any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made.”
However, a teacher told The Miami Herald that Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat to other students. Jim Gard, a math teacher who said Cruz had been in his class last year, said he believes the school had sent out an email warning teachers that Cruz shouldn’t be allowed on campus with a backpack.
“There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard said.
(With agency inputs)