Classmates of the 19-year-old who used an assault rifle to kill 17 students at a Florida high school on Wednesday say Nikolas Cruz couldn’t stop talking about guns — an interest he was able to hone in part directly thanks to the National Rifle Association.
The NRA Foundation, the gun lobby’s charitable arm, gave more than $10,000 worth of assistance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s rifle marksmanship team in 2016, the Associated Press reported Friday. Cruz, who was a member of the team, reportedly excelled despite ongoing violent outbursts that saw him expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons” in early 2017.
“He was a very good shot,” Aaron Diener, a former teammate, told the AP. “He had an AR-15 he talked about, and pistols.”
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment, and it has not issued any statements in reference to the shooting. Dana Loesch, an NRA spokesperson featured in a number of controversial ads for the organization, called the shooting “heinous” in a tweet on Wednesday.
In 2016, Cruz and Diener were both members of a four-person U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps rifle team, where students trained in marksmanship after school and competed in shooting contests with air rifles.
The support, disclosed in 2016 tax forms, came in the form of non-cash assistance to the club. It was not disclosed what it was specifically used for, though the school’s JROTC program did possess Kevlar curtains, which students were able to use for protection during the shooting Wednesday. At least four other high schools in Broward County, where Stoneman is located, also received NRA donations.
The ROTC and the Broward County school district did not respond to a request for comment.
The NRA Foundation has given more than $335 million in grants since 1990 to schools, gun clubs, Boy Scout troops, and churches. Florida got the most donations of any state in 2016.