Suspected school shooter Nikolas Cruz became known to authorities in the fall of 2017 when he posted a comment on YouTube that was reported to the FBI: “I’m gonna be a professional school shooter.”
At a news conference Thursday morning, special FBI agent-in-charge of Miami-Dade Rob Lasky said that the agency had received the report of the comment from a video blogger in Mississippi in September. The comment was made under the name “Nikolas Cruz,” and yet the bureau said it was unable to establish a firm identity.
“No other information was included with that comment which would indicate time, location, and true identity of the person who made that comment,” Lasky said. “The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, and were unable to identify the person who made that comment.”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the department believes it knows where Cruz purchased the AR-15-style assault rifle, and that it appears to have been purchased legally. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating.
“We will interview every student and everyone in that school who knew something or might not know they knew something,” Israel said. “We want to make sure we are able to prosecute this case.”
Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday morning, as investigators continued to piece together why the 19-year-old allegedly walked into his former high school and opened fire, killing 17 people, including students, a teacher and an assistant football coach who had tried to protect others from being killed.
Cruz allegedly entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday afternoon and started shooting. After the school commenced its active shooter lockdown, he allegedly pulled a fire alarm so he could kill more people as they fled the building. Cruz then tried to blend in with fleeing students, but he was arrested without incident a few blocks away.
Cruz is due to appear in magistrate court on Thursday at 2 p.m.
While the nation reeled from yet another bloodbath in an American school, Florida officials assembled in Parkland to offer their condolences to the victim’s families.
“The violence has to stop,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. “We cannot lose another child in this country to violence in a school.”
Scott said he planned to sit down with state leaders in Tallahassee next week to discuss how to ensure that “when a parent is ready to send their child to school, that parent knows their child will be safe,” and that he was “ready to have a real conversation.”
That real conversation, Scott said later, includes school safety, and ensuring mentally ill individuals don’t have access to guns.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, delivering remarks at a conference for Major Cities Sheriffs of America on Thursday, addressed the shooting. “Parents have told me in gang infested neighborhoods that children can no longer stand in a bus stop by themselves.”
In a separate address, President Donald Trump seemed to contradict Sessions’ characterization of Parkland, calling it a “great and safe community.”
“We are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain,” Trump said, speaking to the victim’s families. The president is also expected to visit the scene of the shooting in the coming days.
In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities are dealing with a flood of copycat threats at other schools. “We will use the full power of the sheriff’s office to respond to any threats,” Israel said, “and copycats will be prosecuted to the maximum extend of the law.”
Israel said that detectives worked through the night to identify the victims, and that they have notified all their families.
There was an armed public safety officer on the high school campus at the time of the shooting, said Israel, but he says he never encountered Cruz.
Authorities say that at this point they don’t know whether Cruz was targeting anyone in particular.
Grief counselors have been deployed to Parkland High School, Coral Springs and on site at Westglades Middle School, said Broward County Superintendent Ron Runcie.
“Students have been reaching out to me, reaching out to staff, board members, saying that now, now is the time for this country to have a real conversation on sensible gun control laws in this county,” said Runcie. “Our students are asking for this conversation. I hope we can get this done in our generation. But if we can’t, they will.”
Trump also said that his administration is working closely with authorities to investigate the shooting. “We are helping tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” said Trump. “Making our schools safer will be our priority. It’s not enough to feel like we’re making a difference, we must actually make that difference.”
Cover image: This video screen grab image shows shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz on February 15, 2018 at Broward County Jail in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo credit should read MIGUEL GUTTIEREZ/AFP/Getty Images)