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Nikolas Cruz charged with premeditated murder

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Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was brought to the Broward County jail and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning. (Feb. 15)
AP

A 19-year-old former student with a history of menacing social media posts was booked into Broward County Jail Thursday morning on charges of premeditated murder in the killing of 17 students and faculty at a Florida high school.

Nikolas Cruz, expelled last year for fighting, returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., with a vengeance Wednesday, bolstered by a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple magazines of ammunition and a semi-automatic weapon.

He was moved to jail early Thursday from a hospital, where he was initially taken for labored breathing after his arrest. He was in handcuffs and wearing hospital garb when he was transported before dawn.

Authorities say he triggered a fire alarm in a building that normally serves freshmen students, then roamed the schools’ corridors — from the first floor to the third — opening fire on students pouring into hallways.

It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., more than five years ago.

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Cruz, listed at 5-foot-7 and 131 pounds, was arrested a short distance from the high school near a home, a law enforcement official not authorized to comment publicly told USA TODAY.  

Cruz, who is being held without bond, tried to slip away after the carnage by blending in with fleeing students, but was recognized by fellow teens who knew him for his quick temper and erratic behavior.

Flanked by officers, the suspect was later escorted into a police station wearing a hospital gown. 

More: Why the AR-15 keeps appearing at America’s deadliest mass shootings

More: Florida shooting: What we know about attack at Parkland high school

More: Suspect in fatal Florida school attack is former student with ‘anger’ issues

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A former student went on a shooting rampage at a Florida high school, leaving 17 dead while panicked students barricaded themselves inside classrooms and frantic parents raced to the scene.
USA TODAY

The 17 dead include students and adults, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Fourteen were injured and taken to local hospitals.

A sheriff said the bodies of 12 of the dead, including a beloved coach and security guard, Aaron Feis, who stepped in front of one spray of bullets to protect his students, were found inside the building.

Counselors were made available Thursday morning off-campus for the more than 3,000 students, teachers and staff at the school, which will remain closed as an investigation continues.

Israel said Cruz had been expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.”

Victoria Olvera, 17, a junior, said the suspect was kicked out 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.

Cruz’s mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia Nov. 1, neighbors, friends and family members said, according to the Sun Sentinel. Cruz and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Nikolas and his biological brother, Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island in New York to Broward County.

The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island, said.

Unhappy there, Nikolas Cruz asked to move in with a friend’s family in northwest Broward. The family agreed and Cruz moved in around Thanksgiving. According to the family’s lawyer, who did not identify them, they knew Cruz owned the AR-15 but made him keep it locked up in a cabinet. He did have the key, however.

Math teacher Jim Gard told The Miami Herald that Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat to other students. Gard said he believes the school sent out an email warning teachers that Cruz, who had been in his class last year, 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.

Cruz’s former classmates say the former participant in the ninth grade JROTC group, had a hot temper and a history of making dark, gun-related jokes. 

Jillian Davis, 19, recalls him as withdrawn and having “a lot of anger management issues.”

“Finding out it was him makes a lot of sense now,” Davis says.

Dakota Mutchler, 17, a junior, said he used to be close friends with Cruz, who “started progressively getting a little more weird.”

Mutchler recalled Cruz posting on Instagram about killing animals and said he talked about doing target practice in his backyard with a pellet gun.

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.

The massacre in Florida left a close-knit community reeling. As the ordeal unfolded, parents rushed to the school, lining a nearby roadway to await word on their loved ones. Others simply grieved.

Gov. Rick Scott met with families of the victims Wednesday night and said hisheart goes out to them.
 
“I don’t know what to say to everybody other than the fact that we live in a state that people love each other and care about each other,” he said. “This is tragic. It makes you mad.”

Contributing Kevin Johnson and Crystal Hayes, USA TODAY; Emily Bohatch, The (Stuart, Fla.) News; The Associated Press. 

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