At least 17 people were killed and 15 injured after a shooter opened fire in a South Florida high school on Wednesday afternoon.
Police have identified the suspected gunman as a former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Cruz had been expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.”
A popular football coach is among the dead.
The attack marks the 18th school shooting of 2018
A troubled former student of a South Florida high school returned to campus on Wednesday shortly before dismissal with an assault-style rifle and went on a shooting rampage that left at least 17 people dead and 15 injured, officials said.
Officials said that the suspected gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, first began shooting outside the Parkland, Florida building― located about 45 miles north of Miami― before barging inside. Wearing a gas mask and armed with smoke grenades, he pulled a fire alarm in order to lure students out of classrooms, according to Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who said he had been briefed by law enforcement. Cruz then bombarded students and teachers with bullets before blending in with the panicked crowd to escape.
“He went up and down the hallway just banging and shooting into the classrooms,” one student, Natalie, told CBS News. “He shot through my door and broke my window.”
Madison Sheib, a 15-year-old sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was working on a study sheet in her math class when she heard gunshots. She first thought they were the sounds of chairs being shuffled on the floor above her. When she and other students realized what it was, they ran for cover.
“We ran into a corner and turned off all the lights,” Sheib told HuffPost. “We just kept hearing gunshots and screaming.”
The school, in the suburban community about 15 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale, was quickly placed on lockdown. Police detained Cruz nearly two hours later, just before 4 p.m. Eastern time, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.
Three victims remain at Broward Health North hospital in critical condition, while three others are in stable condition, hospital officials said just after 7 p.m. Among the dead is a high school football coach, who police declined to name but family and friends identified as assistant coach and security guard Aaron Feis. The son of a deputy sheriff was wounded.
Wednesday’s attack marks the 18th school shooting of 2018.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said that the gunman used an AR-15 assault-style rifle and had “multiple magazines” on him.
Twelve of his victims died inside the school building, two outside of the building, one on a nearby street and two others in the hospital, Israel said, adding that the victims were “a mixture of students and adults.”
“We’ve begun to dissect the social media he was on,” Israel said during a news conference, referring to Cruz. “Some of the things are very disturbing.”
After being detained by police, Cruz was treated at Broward Health North and released back into police custody, where he remained Wednesday night.
Cruz had legally purchased the gun he used during the shooting, the family’s attorney, Jim Lewis, told the Sun Sentinel.
“It was his gun,” Lewis said. “The family made him keep it in a locked gun cabinet in the house but he had a key.”
The outlet said that Cruz and his brother Zachary were living with family friends after their adoptive mother died in November.
“The family is devastated, they didn’t see this coming,” Lewis said. ”They took him in and it’s a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished. He was a little quirky and he was depressed about his mom’s death, but who wouldn’t be?”
Cruz had reportedly been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High the year before for “disciplinary reasons.” He is currently enrolled as a student within the Broward County Public Schools system, though police declined to name which school he was attending. He also worked at a nearby Dollar Tree, the general store chain confirmed.
“This has been a day we’ve seen the worst of humanity,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said during a news conference late Wednesday night.
“Tomorrow is going to bring out the best in humanity as we come together to move forward from this unspeakable tragedy,” he added.
Video taken off campus showed authorities making an arrest just before 4 p.m.
Coral Springs Police had earlier tweeted that teachers and students should barricade themselves inside “until police reach you.”
One unidentified student, speaking to local station WSVN, said he knew the suspect and that the young man had shown him photos of a gun collection he owned.
“It surprises me that this is going on today, but it doesn’t shock me that it was him,” the student said. “He’s been a troubled kid, and he’s always had a certain amount of issues going on.”
Jim Gard, a math teacher at the school, provided a similar description of the suspect to the Miami Herald.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said Gard, adding that the former student had been in his class last year. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
Sheib, who was hiding in her math class during the attack, told HuffPost that someone pulled the fire alarm after the first round of gunshots. Students ― including herself ― attempted to stay calm while police arrived. Eventually, an officer smashed the door window and ushered students out of the building.
We just kept hearing gunshots and screaming.”
Madison Sheib, 15
Sheib credits her math teacher, Zipora Lazarus, with keeping students calm.
“[Lazarus] was very, very good with handling people,” Sheib said. “I started bawling when police finally broke in, and she was very nurturing. I’ve never seen that side of her because she’s just my math teacher, but this brought out the best of everyone.”
Sheib’s brother, 19-year-old John Miceli, had frantically texted his sister to make sure she was OK.
“Madi please be okay,” he wrote in a text provided to HuffPost. “I love you.”
A wave of relief washed over him when she finally responded with “I love you too.”
Miceli, a journalism student at the University of Central Florida, told HuffPost he was on his way back to Parkland to be with his sister.
Another unidentified student, speaking to WSVN, also described people being evacuated after hearing a fire alarm go off. He added that he heard gunfire but didn’t think it was real.
“I didn’t think that it was actual gunfire. I thought that it was just kids popping balloons because it’s Valentine’s Day,” he said.
A female student, speaking to CBS Miami, said her drama teacher instructed them to hide in a closet after they heard gunshots. As many as 40 students were hiding in the closet, crying and without information about the shooter, the news outlet reported.
That student later reported that they had safely made it out.
Many parents had gathered near the school, hoping to receive news about their children, Daily Beast reporter James LaPorta reported from the scene. Some of them formed prayer circles, supporting one another as they were waiting.
Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky told MSNBC that officials were working to secure the building.
“As you can imagine, our first responders are extremely busy doing their job now, so we have received very little firsthand information and have tried to stay back and allow them to their jobs,” Hunschofsky said.
“A tragedy can happen anywhere, anytime,” she added.
Superintendent Runcie told reporters that more needs to be done to prevent such tragedies.
“We cannot live in a world that’s built on fear,” he said. “We have to do what we can to make sure that we provide the greatest safety measures we can for our kids.”
Runcie also stressed the need to better treat and address mental health issues across the country. He added that he was speaking generally and didn’t know if the suspect in this case has mental health issues but said, “No sane person is going to go and commit such an atrocity.”
“Mental health issues in this country are growing and they’re a big challenge and … need to be addressed within our school systems as well as the broader society to make sure these tragedies don’t continue,” Runcie said.
The school employs a full-time police officer, according to online records.
The number of school police officers increased sharply after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. The officers are in part meant to help stop school shootings.
President Donald Trump offered condolences to the families of the victims on Twitter, adding: “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
After speaking with federal authorities about the shooting, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a tweet that it was “clear” the attack “was designed and executed to maximize loss of life.”
The Florida senator tweeted earlier Wednesday, “Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has also spoken out about the tragedy, posting on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with the students, their families and the entire community. We will continue to receive briefings from law enforcement and issue updates.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said that the state will pay for the victims’ funeral expenses as well as counseling services for those affected by the shooting.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Sheriff Israel called for the community to report any suspicious activity they see online, including individuals with assault-style rifles or weapons, to the FBI or law enforcement in order to prevent “a major tragedy like this devastation that happened in Parkland tonight.”
Israel also suggested that firearms should be off-limits to those who are being treated for mental health issues.
“While people who are victims of mental health illnesses in this country are being treated, in the opinion of this sheriff, they should not be able to buy, surround themselves, purchase or carry a handgun,” Israel said. “Those two things don’t mix.”
Sara Boboltz, Ryan Grenoble and Doha Madani contributed reporting.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Shooting
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