“Copycat” threats have been made at several South Florida schools in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said today.
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“We will respond to every threat. Every threat we receive, we will not classify it as a copycat or prank call,” Israel said at a news conference. “We will respond in full and investigate it.”
But “any call that is made fictitiously, any fake call, any call that is made to take out resources at a time like this and place them in places where we don’t need to be, we will do the full power of the sheriff’s office. We’ll investigate this and charge anyone accordingly with the maximum charge we possibly could for doing something so horrific, so pathetic.”
Students, parents and faculty at the school are struggling to fathom why a former student allegedly opened fire there Wednesday as law enforcement officials searched for clues and the school district denied suggestions that it had been warned.
“Everybody started running up the stairs,” student Kelsey Friend told “Good Morning America” today. “I was being shoved and then I started hearing gunshots.
“I had talked to my teacher and said, ‘I am scared,’ and then we heard gunshots and he unlocked the door and let us in,” she continued, referring to her teacher.
“I had thought he was behind me. … But he wasn’t,” Friend said, crying.
“When he opened the door, he had to re-lock it so we can stay safe. And he didn’t get the chance to,” Friend said, noting that her teacher was lying on the floor.
Besides the 17 killed, more than a dozen others were injured, some critically.
Authorities arrested 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman over disciplinary problems, in the aftermath of what has become the deadliest school shooting since an attack on an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
He had been barred from carrying a backpack on campus before the expulsion, according to law enforcement sources.
Cruz — who took an Uber to the school on Valentine’s Day, according to Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie — slipped away from the campus by blending in with other students who were trying to escape, police said. He was later apprehended.
The FBI learned of a comment made on YouTube last year that said, “‘I’m going to be a professional school shooter,’” Robert Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI Miami Division, said at today’s news conference.
Officials now believe Cruz was the source.
“No other information was included with that comment which would indicate a time, location, or the true identity of the person who made the comment,” Lasky added. “The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, wasn’t able to further able to identify the person who made the comment.”
The school had “received no warning, no hints, no tips” about the suspected shooter, schools superintendent Runcie told ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV.
After the suspect stormed the school, smoke from the gunfire set off the fire alarm, according to the superintendent.
The suspect had an AR-15-style rifle that had apparently been legally purchased, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.
Jim Lewis, the attorney for the family that took Cruz in, said the family knew the suspect had an AR-15 but that it was “in a locked gun safe.”
This family took Cruz, who was good friends with their son, into their home after his mother died last November, Lewis said.
“They’re hurt and shocked,” Lewis said. “They’re just like everybody else, trying to make some sense of this and trying to figure out why.”
President Donald Trump tweeted this morning there were “many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed.”
Though the shooter had been expelled, the president said such behavior must be reported “again and again.”
Student Dakota Mutchler, 17, said he knew the suspect but had stopped speaking to him when Cruz began to display violence toward others.
Cruz would often post videos on social media of his killing or harming animals, Mutchler said, adding that Cruz also once threatened a female friend of his.
“Everyone in school, like those that knew him, speculated about him,” Mutchler continued. “He got suspended a lot of times and he sold knives in his lunch boxes and he was expelled, but no one expected him to come back and shoot. He started progressively getting a little more weird and I kind of cut off from him because I felt like he was a bad influence on me.”
Cruz was booked into the Broward County Jail and charged with 17 counts of pre-meditated murder. Cruz has been answering investigators’ questions, two law enforcement sources told ABC News. He will appear in court at 2 p.m. today.
Witnesses reported a barrage of gunfire around 2:40 p.m., near dismissal time. Video posted on social media showed students were fleeing from the shooting with their hands in the air. One student said he had to climb a fence to escape.
“My teacher thought it was a firecracker, but then a gunshot went off again, so I started running out of my class,” a student, who only gave his first name, Amar, said in a Instagram post.
He said his teacher tried to usher him back into the classroom, but he was afraid of getting trapped in the building.
“I couldn’t. I had to go,” he said. “I jumped the gate as quick as I can.”
Students and parents were still close to the scene at the large high school several hours after the shooting, waiting for updates from police. Some were seen kneeling and crying while others held pictures of missing classmates.
School football coach and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate Aaron Feis was among those dead, Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
Ryan Mackman, who went to the school with Feis and graduated with him in 1999, called him a “hero.”
“The fact that he died saving lives — the guy’s a hero. … He was always a giving guy, he was always there for people, he had a big heart,” Mackman told ABC News. “That showed all the way to the end.”
Runcie, the Broward schools superintendent, said, “We had an athletic director, campus monitor who responded immediately when there was signs of trouble in the school. Unfortunately, those two heroes gave their lives for our kids and probably helped prevent this from being a worst tragedy than it is.”
The school will be closed the rest of the week, and grief counselors will be made available for students beginning this morning, officials said.
ABC News’ Josh Margolin, Rachel Katz, Matt Foster and Courtney Han contributed to this report.
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