Broward County

Latest on the Parkland school shooting: A search for answers; the shooter confesses

Students recount mass shooting at Broward County school

Seventeen people were killed when suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students said they heard the fire alarm go off and thought it was a drill.
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Seventeen people were killed when suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students said they heard the fire alarm go off and thought it was a drill.

The questions from a grieving community have been heard before. So, too, have the strong statements from elected officials, and the tales of selfless heroism in the face of danger — even a few of the chilling details about the killer.

In the strangely familiar aftermath to the deadliest high school shooting in American history, which erupted Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, parents, police, students and teachers faced some of the same questions as those who came before them.

How did everyone miss the signs that the shooting suspect was deeply troubled, especially given his ominous postings to social media? And what could be done to prevent such a tragedy from happening again?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he has had enough.

“We want to make sure this never happens again,” Scott told reporters outside Douglas High on Thursday as he vowed to meet with state lawmakers and find a way to reduce violence in schools. “How do we make sure individuals with mental illness never touch a gun?”

“We should not have disconnected youth wandering around our community,” insisted Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, who called for “real funding” for mental health programs for young people.

And Broward Mayor Beam Furr wondered whether Wednesday’s shooting might have been prevented if police and teachers had acted on signs that the shooting suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was dangerously adrift.

“Somebody who has a mental health issue, how in the world they can get within a thousand feet of a gun, I don’t know,” Furr said.

A prolific poster to social media, Cruz had flaunted a fascination with guns and telegraphed his intent to shoot others on Instagram and YouTube, according to police.

But even the FBI was unable to run down a threat that presaged the violence of a troubled teen who carried a weapon of war into Douglas High on Valentine’s Day, killing 17 people and injuring at least 15 more.

Rob Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office, said the agency had gotten a tip in 2017 about an ominous message posted to a YouTube video.

The message, Lasky said, read: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.”

The person who posted the comment left no details about the location or the time, Lasky said. The FBI investigated the incident, reviewing internal databases and checking open sources, Lasky added, but “We were unable to identify the person who made the comment.”

It was signed with the user name, “nikolas cruz.”

Nikolas Cru_fitted
Nikolas Cruz

Despite calls from Scott and Runcie for more funding for mental health programs — and from Broward Sheriff Scott Israel for more police authority to involuntarily detain troubled persons — none said that Cruz has a mental illness.

Only Furr said that Cruz had attended a local mental health clinic for about one year before he quit in the fall.

Furr said he did not know what mental health issue Cruz was getting help with, or the course of treatment he received. But he said Cruz may have stopped going to the clinic shortly before his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died in November.

Adding more confusion to the mystery of what motivated Cruz: A white nationalist group known for publicity seeking claimed Cruz as one of its members, but provided no proof.

Jordan Jereb, the leader of a white nationalist militia known as the Republic of Florida, which explicitly advocates white supremacy, said Cruz attended meetings with the Clearwater cell of the group and traveled to Tampa with the group at least once.

Jereb, however, said he has never personally met Cruz and cannot attest to what extent Cruz was involved with ROF or how long he’d allegedly been a part of the group.

“I know with certainty he had something to do with us,” he told the Herald.

Speaking on National Public Radio early Thursday, Michael Udine, a Broward commissioner and former mayor of the city where the massacre unfolded, agreed that many missed the signs that Cruz was a potential danger.

“We have to be more vigilant,” Udine said. “If this can happen in a city like Parkland, it can happen anywhere.”

Across the country, America will mark the Parkland shooting with flags at half-staff after President Donald Trump issued a proclamation on Thursday ordering that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff at the White House and all public buildings and grounds, military posts, naval stations and vessels and foreign embassies until sunset on Feb. 19.

Trump, who said he will visit Parkland to help coordinate the federal response, addressed the nation on Thursday from the White House Diplomatic Room.

“No child, no teacher should ever be in danger in an American school,” Trump said. “No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them good-bye in the morning.”

In Broward, authorities revealed more details about Wednesday’s bloody rampage at Douglas High, a school with about 3,000 students enrolled.

A law enforcement official said Cruz bought the assault rifle used in the deadly attack at a Coral Springs gun shop called Sunrise Tactical Supply in February 2017.

Cruz bought the .223-caliber rifle — commonly referred to as an AR-15 — after immediately clearing an instant background check by the gun shop owner through an FBI criminal database. Cruz did not have a criminal history.

“As far as I can tell, this was a clean sale,” the law enforcement official told the Herald, who described the assault weapon as a “civilian version of a military rifle.”

Cruz, a former student at Douglas High, was booked into the county jail Thursday morning after prosecutors charged him with 17 counts of premeditated murder. A Broward County Court judge denied bond for Cruz.

“You’re charged with some very serious crimes,” Broward County Judge Kim Theresa Mollica told the defendant via a video feed from the county jail to her courtroom.

Before her decision, assistant Broward state attorney Shari Tate said Cruz went to the high school with a “premeditated design” to kill students and teachers.

“He shot 17 individuals who later died, and he fled the scene,” Tate read from an arrest affidavit.

Broward assistant public defender Melissa McNeill invoked Cruz’s right to silence while he stood by her in an orange inmate uniform in the county jail. His wrists and ankles were shackled. He showed no emotion and only responded once to a judge’s question about whether he understood why he was in court.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Police had arrested Cruz on Wednesday after he attempted to blend in with students fleeing the scene. Cruz was wearing a military uniform from his JROTC class — the U.S Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — according to two witnesses, and Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies said they were able to track his movements using the school’s video surveillance.

Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz arrives at Broward County Jail on Thursday, February 15, 2018.

Zackary Walls, a senior at Douglas High and a JROTC member, said Cruz had been a member of the marksmen groups. He said the alleged gunman was able to slip out of the school unnoticed after the shooting, leaving his weapon and gas mask behind, because he was wearing his JROTC polo shirt, which he knew the group always wore on Wednesdays.

Michael Leonard, a Coconut Creek patrol officer, captured Cruz as the alleged shooter walked through a neighborhood near the school — wearing the maroon JROTC polo, black pants and black hat that witnesses had described.

“He looked like a typical high school student,” Leonard said. Cruz had abandoned his assault rifle and vest at the school.

Leonard pulled over the patrol car and ordered Cruz to the ground.

“He complied with my commands and was taken into custody without any weapons,” Leonard said.

Cruz later confessed to police that he had entered the school armed with an AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw in the hallways, according to the arrest affidavit. Cruz also told police that he brought multiple loaded magazines and hid them in his backpack.

On Thursday, investigators and a stunned community began trying to reconstruct the events of Wednesday.

Investigators apparently were able to identify Cruz even as the shooting was occurring, according to one teacher at the school, who asked not to be identified. He said he had locked his students in a classroom and that he could hear a police radio outside the door. The teacher said he heard Cruz’s name and a police officer say the suspected shooter might be headed toward the middle school nearby.

Broward officials also offered more details of the deadly rampage. While much remains unclear about the sequence of the shooting, Runcie said early Thursday that fire alarms at the school had been tripped by gun smoke from the assault weapon that Cruz allegedly used — not by Cruz himself, as had been reported previously.

Runcie said Cruz had arrived on campus at the time of dismissal. “That is a fairly open time,” Runcie said, explaining why Cruz apparently had no difficulty getting onto the school grounds. Cruz arrived in an Uber to the school, Javier Correoso, a company spokesman, confirmed to the Herald.

“We are assisting law enforcement authorities with the investigation,” said Correoso, who declined to answer questions about how Cruz managed to conceal his weapons.

Runcie added that an armed school police officer was on campus when Cruz allegedly launched the attack, but that the officer “never encountered Cruz.”

By the time the crime scene was cleared, the Broward sheriff said, 12 people had died inside the school building, two died outside, one died on the street and two in an area hospital. The injured were taken to Broward Health North in Pompano Beach and Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Dr. Evan Boyer from Broward Health North said the hospital had received a total of nine patients, including the suspected shooter. Two patients later died at the hospital, Boyer said, and three remained hospitalized. Three others had been discharged home as of Thursday morning.

An additional six victims remain hospitalized at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, said Dr. Michael Puente, trauma director for the hospital.

“Unfortunately, this is becoming routine,” Puente said, referring to the 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

As the pain of the prior day’s shooting settled in, grief counselors on Thursday morning fanned out to area parks, schools and libraries to help students, families and teachers cope with the tragedy.

Early Thursday, students and parents were greeted by two therapy dogs inside the Pine Trails Park Recreation Center.

Members of the Red Cross and local volunteers brought in tissues and snacks as some of the survivors and victims’ loved ones fought back tears.

Waiting for her daughter outside the center, Heidi Feuerman said she was upset with herself for not believing her daughter soon enough.

About two months ago, Feuerman and her daughter, whose name was not given, stopped by the Dollar General where the shooting suspect worked. Feuerman remembered her daughter pointing him out.

“That’s the kid,” her daughter said. “If anybody’s gonna be a school shooter, he’s the one that’s gonna be a school shooter.”

Her daughter knew of Cruz’s reputation as a loner and said he had a crush on her.

Feuerman told her not to be so quick to judge.

Now, Feuerman is just trying to be supportive of her kids, a daughter and son. As a mother, she said it’s frustrating not to be able to relate to her kids’ traumatic experience.

“I don’t know what that feels like,” she said.

Stephen Feuerman, Heidi’s husband, said he’s grown accustomed to shootings.

The silver lining?

“At least the support system is better than it ever was,” he said.

A previous version of this story stated that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting was the 18th school shooting this year without providing context for that figure, which includes accidental discharge of firearms on campuses and incidents where no students were injured.

Herald Staff Writers Kyra Gurney, Alex Harris, Manny Navarro, Nora Gámez Torres, Carli Teproff and Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

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