‘A Horrific, Horrific Day’: at Least 17 Killed in Florida School Shooting
A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.
The violence unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a school of more than 3,000 students in an affluent suburb northwest of Fort Lauderdale where houses sit on broad lots.
The Broward County sheriff identified the suspect as Nikolas Cruz, who had recently attended the school but had been kicked out for “disciplinary reasons.” He was captured after a manhunt that transfixed the region and forced a nearby school into a lockdown, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Students recalled terror and confusion in the aftermath of the shooting.
“It’s a horrific, horrific day,” said Israel, whose own triplets graduated from the well-regarded high school. “It’s catastrophic. There really are no words.” The victims included several students and adults, authorities said.
In an English class, students were reading Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” when the shooting began, and a Code Red was declared.
“We had a fire drill early in the day, so we really didn’t know what was going on,” said Ryan Kadel, a 17-year-old senior. “We went outside, and we saw a security guard on a golf cart driving really fast and yelling at us to run.”
He and two dozen other students fled to the nearest building, piling into a large closet, where they stayed for more than 90 minutes.
“People were texting, trying to find out what was going on. Kids were crying; some people were freaking out,” Kadel said. “I’m kind of surprised it happened here, but I’m not really shocked. School shootings happen all the time, and then the news just forgets about them.”
The gunman started firing before even entering the school, leaving a trail of carnage across the sprawling campus, Israel said. A dozen of the dead were found inside the school, and three were found outside. Two others died from their injuries at a hospital. By 9 p.m. Wednesday, 12 of the victims had been identified, Israel said.
“It is a day you pray every day you don’t have to see,” said Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, reflecting on one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings. The shooter came to the school armed with weaponry that evoked a battlefield, not a school located down the street from an equestrian park. He carried “countless magazines” and an AR-15 rifle, Israel said. It was unclear whether the shooter had a second weapon, the sheriff said.
Just after 3 p.m. Wednesday, Michael Nembhard — a retiree who lives in Coral Springs, which sits just south of Parkland — was sitting in his garage watching the TV news when he heard an officer yell, “Get on the ground!”
He said he looked out and saw police arrest the suspect in the school shooting. The teenager was on the ground, wearing a burgundy hoodie and dark pants.
“The cop had his gun drawn and pointed at him,” Nembhard said in a phone interview. “The kid’s face was turned away, so I couldn’t see anything.”
Jim Gard, a math teacher at Stoneman Douglas High School, which is named for an icon of the South Florida environmental movement — said he taught the shooting suspect last year.
“I had him almost all year. He just looked like a regular high school kid. Nothing outstanding. He didn’t act up in class, wasn’t loud or boisterous,” Gard said.
But at some point during the school year, Gard said, the school administration sent out a note with a vague suggestion of alarm, asking teachers to keep an eye on Cruz. “I don’t recall the exact message, but it was an email notice they sent out.”
Authorities who were beginning to analyze his motives had unearthed social media postings that “are very, very disturbing,” Israel said.
An Instagram account that appeared to belong to the suspect showed several photos of guns. One appeared to show a gun’s holographic laser sight pointed at a neighborhood street. A second showed at least six rifles and handguns laid out on a bed with the caption “arsenal.” Other pictures showed a box of large-caliber rounds with the caption “cost me $30.” One of the most disturbing appeared to show a dead frog’s bloodied corpse.
Cruz and a half-brother were adopted as babies by Lynda and Roger Cruz, according to a relative in New York. Roger died years ago, and Lynda died last fall, the relative said. Around Thanksgiving, Nikolas Cruz moved in with the family of a friend from Stoneman Douglas High School, said Jim Lewis, an attorney representing the family.
“The family brought him into their home. They got him a job at the local dollar store. They didn’t see anything that would suggest any violence,” said Lewis, who declined to identify them. “He was depressed, maybe a little quirky. But they never saw anything violent.”
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