A teenager armed with an AR-15-style rifle is accused of carrying out the deadliest rampage in a school since the Sandy Hook attack, killing at least 17 people and wounding at least 12 more at a high school in South Florida Wednesday.
Authorities say Nikolas de Jesus Cruz, a former student at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, opened fire at a freshman building just before classes were dismissed at 3 p.m. and continued to shoot as he fled the scene. Law enforcement responded to the scene just before 3:15 p.m. and say they apprehended him at home “about an hour” after he escaped from the school.
ABC reports he was able to evade detection by “blending in with other students who were trying to escape,” despite a heavy police presence that included multiple SWAT teams and agents from the FBI and ATF, as well as several media helicopters.
Cruz, who was arrested and taken into custody, was taken out on a stretcher but did not maintain any serious injuries, Broward County sheriff Scott Israel told reporters during a news briefing. He had at least one AR-15 rifle and “countless” magazines in his possession, and Israel said the information investigators have uncovered so far on his social media “is very, very disturbing."
"This is a terrible day for Broward County, the state of Florida, the United States," said Israel. "There really are no words."
The shooting unfolded despite a consistent police presence on the campus.
“There typically are at least two, two cars of law enforcement individuals on our campus, on a daily basis," Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters.
It’s also not clear how Cruz was able to gain access to the school, which he had been expelled from the year before over behavioral issues. His mother, Lynda Cruz, who adopted him and his brother, called police on multiple occasions to their home, in hopes the officers could "talk some sense into him," the New York Times reports. She passed away last year, according to reports.
Jim Gard, a teacher at the school who taught Cruz math last year, told the Miami Herald that teachers were “told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him.”
“There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus,” Gard added. He told the Times Cruz was generally quiet and "not disruptive" in class.
ABC News reports the rule was put into place after the school found bullet fragments in his backpack after he got into a fight with another student.
“Girls thought he was creepy and weird,” 15-year-old student Milan Parodie told The Daily Beast. “He wore a lot of black and was always alone… I don’t know how to put it but, like, he never seemed depressed or sad. He was always a little crazy is the best way to put it.”
One student told WSVN Cruz used to brag about his guns and carried pictures of them around on his cell phone. Another student told CBS people used to make jokes about Cruz being the kind of person who would shoot up a school.
“It turns out everyone predicted it. That’s crazy,” the student said. “He knows the school layout. He knows where everyone would be at. He’s been in those fire drills, he’s prepared for this stuff.”
The death count, which is expected to rise, reflects that: Twelve of the victims were killed inside the school, two victims just outside the building, one on the street, and two died in the hospital. Israel told reporters the victims were “a mix” of children and adults.
Sen. Bill Nelson told CNN the shooter was wearing a gasmask and deliberately ”set off the fire alarm so the kids would come pouring out of the classrooms into the hall, and there, the carnage began."
Some of the students said they initially thought it was just a fire drill, or that they thought the noise was from firecrackers or the balloons that were used to decorate the school for Valentine’s Day. But it quickly became clear something was terribly wrong.
"I heard so many gunshots, at least like six. They were very close," Nicole Baltzer, an 18-year-old student told CNN.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on Twitter that federal authorities informed him the “attack was designed & executed to maximize loss of life.”
Superintendent Runcie told WSVN that they were not aware of any explicit threats before the shooting, saying, “We received no warning… Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”
Video footage from the scene shows children crying, running with their hands up, and holding onto each other’s shoulders as they evacuated the buildings.
Anxious parents were still looking for their children hours after the shooting, as media helicopters swirled overhead. Parents still trying to reunite with their children have been asked to wait at a Marriott hotel nearby by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
A bomb squad is still scouring the school as a precautionary measure, according to CNN, after which the medical examiner will have access.
President Trump, who is not expected to leave the White House residence tonight, used Twitter to extend his condolences to the families and students affected by the shooting. He added he was in touch with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida as well as law enforcement.
Gov. Rick Scott said he is on his way to Broward County.