At Least 17 Dead After Troubled Former Student Allegedly Opens Fire On Florida High School

The gunman set off the school's fire alarm, then shot students as they fled classrooms, officials said.
  • At least 17 people were killed and 15 injured when a shooter opened fire in a South Florida high school on Wednesday afternoon.

  • The suspected shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is a former student who was expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.” He was arrested on Wednesday hours after the attack and has since been charged with premeditated murder.

  • The attack marks the 18th school shooting of 2018.

A troubled former student armed with an assault-style rifle returned to his Parkland, Florida, high school on Wednesday and opened fire, killing at least 17 people and injuring 15, officials said.

Police said the accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, began shooting outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shortly before dismissal, then barged inside. Wearing a gas mask and armed with smoke grenades, he pulled a fire alarm to lure students out of classrooms, according to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who said he had been briefed by law enforcement. Cruz then sprayed students and staffers 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, was working on a study sheet in her math class when she heard what she first thought 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.”

Wednesday’s attack marks the 18th school shooting of 2018.

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., according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Department. Cruz was charged with 17 counts of murder on Thursday and jailed without bond at Broward County Jail, according to The Associated Press.

Three victims remained at Broward Health North hospital in critical condition, and three others were in stable condition, hospital officials said just after 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Among those killed was a school football coach, whom 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.

“I am so sad about this news,” Feis’ cousin Joey Fulco told HuffPost. “The entire Feis family [is] devastated.”

Jamie Guttenberg, a student, was also killed in the shooting, her father, Fred Guttenberg, confirmed in a Facebook post on Thursday. According to Local 10 News, Jamie’s brother Jesse, who was also in school during the attack, survived.

“My heart is broken,” Fred Guttenberg said. “I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family get’s [sic] through this.”

Parents wait for news after reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. One woman's forehead is marked from an Ash Wednesday ritual.
Parents wait for news after reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. One woman's forehead is marked from an Ash Wednesday ritual.
Joel Auerbach/AP

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the gunman used an AR-15 assault-style rifle and had “multiple magazines” of ammunition on him.

Twelve of his victims died inside the school building, two outside 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.”

After being detained by police, Cruz was treated at Broward Health North and released to police custody.

“We’ve begun to dissect the social media he was on,” Israel said during a news conference. “Some of the things are very disturbing.”

The Republic of Florida, a white nationalist militia, confirmed on Thursday that Cruz had attended some of its paramilitary drills in Tallahassee.

Cruz had legally purchased the gun he used during the shooting, the family’s attorney, Jim Lewis, told the Sun Sentinel. Law enforcement sources confirmed to the AP that the AR-15 was purchased around a year ago.

“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 newspaper said Cruz and his brother Zachary had been 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?”

Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Cruz had been treated at a mental health clinic for “mental health issues,” but that he hadn’t been back in more than a year. Lewis told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Cruz had recently started therapy again in the wake of his mother’s death.

Cruz’s late mother would sometimes call the police to help her deal with her two sons’ “behavioral problems,” former neighbor Helen Pasciolla told The New York Times.

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. “Tomorrow is going to bring out the best in humanity as we come together to move forward from this unspeakable tragedy.”

One unidentified student, speaking to local station WSVN, said the suspect 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.”

Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami Herald that the suspect reportedly wasn’t allowed to carry a backpack on the school campus. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard said.

Gard told The New York Times that other students told him Cruz had been obsessed with a female student “to the point of stalking her.”

Senior Eddie Bonilla told CBS Miami he wasn’t surprised his former classmate was arrested.

“Honestly a lot of people a lot of people were saying it was going to be him,” Bonilla said. “We actually, a lot of kids threw jokes around Iike that, saying that he’s the one to shoot up the school, but it turns out everyone predicted it. It’s crazy.”

Sheib, who was hiding in her math class during the attack, told HuffPost she heard the fire alarm go off 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.

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 shown to HuffPost. “I love you.”

A wave of relief washed over him when she finally responded with “I love you too.”

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.

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.”

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.”

But on Thursday the president appeared to criticize people in the community who “knew he was a big problem,” and he cautioned “such instances” needed to be reported to the authorities.

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.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) also spoke about the violence, posting on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with the students, their families and the entire community.”

State Attorney General Pam Bondi said that the state will pay for the victims’ funeral expenses as well as counseling services for those affected.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Sheriff Israel called for people to report any suspicious activity they see online, including individuals with assault-style rifles or weapons, to 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.

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