A shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, has left at least 17 people dead and at least 15 others hospitalized. Students and adults are among the victims, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
The man accused of carrying out the atrocity, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is a troubled former student who, according to police and former classmates, loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
Israel told reporters Cruz had been arrested about an hour after the shooting and that he had been found with multiple ammunition magazines and one AR-15-style rifle.
“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.
“This is a terrible day for Parkland,” he added, referring to a city of about 30,000 people that is located 50 miles north of Miami.
At least 12 people were killed inside the school building. Two others were killed outside, and another person was fatally shot on a street corner as the suspect fled the scene. Two more victims later died in hospital.
The names of the victims had yet to be released at time of writing, but Israel revealed that one of those killed was a football coach.
‘A little something off’
Chad Williams, 18, a senior at Stoneman Douglas High school, recalled being a classmate of Cruz’s in middle school. 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 publications about guns when they ran into each other. “He was crazy about guns,” Williams told Reuters. “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. “I would say he was not the most normal or sane kid in JROTC. He definitely had a little something off about him. He was a little extra quirky,” said Davis, who graduated from the school last year.
Another student, 17-year-old junior Dakota Mutchler, said he hadn’t spoken to Cruz, formerly a friend, in more than a year, but that Cruz had tried to contact him on Snapchat two weeks ago.
“Everybody that knew of him had a sort of suspicion about him,” Mutchler said.
A teacher at the school told the Miami Herald that Cruz had been identified previously as a potential threat to his classmates.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” mathematics teacher Jim Gard said. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
“There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus”
Administrators sent an email to teachers warning them about Cruz, Gard told the paper. However, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters outside the school after the shooting that the school had no indication Cruz was a danger.
“Typically, you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there,” he said. “But we didn’t have any warnings, there weren’t any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made.”
Runcie added that Cruz was still a student at Broward County Public Schools but declined to provide further details.
‘Everyone started running’
The shooting, one of nearly 20 at US schools already this year, will once again throw the spotlight on the epidemic of gun violence in the country, where there are 33,000 gun-related deaths annually.
When questioned at a press conference late on Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott – who described the massacre as “just pure evil” – declined to make any comment on the issue of gun control.
“There’s a time to continue to have these conversations about how, through law enforcement [and] mental illness funding… we make sure people are safe, and we’ll continue to do that,” said Scott, a Republican.
Following the shooting, students – some with their hands in the air – were led out of the school by heavily armed police officers and an armored vehicle filled with a SWAT team.
Student Jeiella Dodoo told CBS News that she and her schoolmates evacuated calmly after hearing what they thought was a routine fire alarm. “The alarm went off so we had to evacuate from our classes,” she said. “Then we heard gunshots. I heard about six gunshots, and then some people started running and then everyone started running because we were like ‘If it’s real, then just run.'”
On Twitter, US President Donald Trump offered his “prayers and condolences to the families of the victims.”
My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 14, 2018
Since January 2013, there have been at least 291 school shootings across the US – an average of about one a week, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group that advocates for gun control.
“It is pretty clear that we’re failing our kids here,” said Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at the school who told networks she helped 19 students to hide with her in a closet.