Broward County

Florida school shooter’s AR-15 may have jammed, saving lives, report says

Students are released from a lockdown outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after a rampage killed 17 students and educators on Feb. 14, 2018.
Students are released from a lockdown outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after a rampage killed 17 students and educators on Feb. 14, 2018. Sun Sentinel

Nikolas Cruz’s semiautomatic rifle may have jammed during the massacre at a high school in Parkland earlier this month, according to Miami Herald news partner CBS4.

Cruz then dropped the AR-15 and fled with other students, CBS4 reporter Jim DeFede tweeted Tuesday afternoon, citing three sources familiar with the investigation. Cruz still had 150 rounds of ammunition — meaning many more people could have died had he been able to keep firing.

A source not authorized to speak on the record confirmed to the Herald that Cruz struggled with his gun during the onslaught, either due to the weapon jamming or because he fumbled trying to reload it.

Nikolas Cruz appears in open court for the first time on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, during a status hearing before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Dougl

Several state legislators who visited the school with crime-scene investigators said they learned from police that Cruz’s rifle was not top-of-the-line, perhaps explaining the malfunction.

The “weapon and bullets were not high quality and were breaking apart,” one of the legislators, state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, told the Herald.

Cruz went in with only 10-round magazines because larger clips would not fit in his duffel bag, Book said.

Seventeen people died in Cruz’s attack. Another 15 were wounded. It could have been far worse had he continued firing: Before the weapon jammed, the 19-year-old tried to shoot out a third-floor window in the freshman building of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School so he could spray bullets onto helpless students and staff below. But the hurricane-impact glass did not break.

Michael Limatola, a weapons expert and consultant based in New Jersey, said jamming is a weakness of rifles like the one Cruz used. They “are prone to this type of problem if not cleaned thoroughly,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio had hinted last week that Cruz’s weapon malfunctioned.

“I believe that there will be evidence that at a key moment in this incident, three or four people — three or four people might be alive today because of something that this deranged killer did, had to do,” Rubio said at a nationally televised town hall with CNN last week.

At a town hall held by CNN in Sunrise, Florida, on Wednesday night, thousands of angry students, teachers and parents booed Republican Sen. Marco Rubio when he indicated that he would not support an assault-weapons ban

Had Cruz used high-capacity magazines, he would not have had to reload as frequently. That’s the reason Rubio is reconsidering his position on the the sale of high-capacity magazines, according to DeFede.

If Cruz’s rampage was stopped only because his gun jammed, the response of Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies will likely come under even more scrutiny.

The first deputy on the scene, school resource officer Scot Peterson, did not immediately enter the building to confront Cruz, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel announced last week. Three other BSO deputies may also have waited outside.

Peterson has defended his conduct, saying he thought the shooter was somewhere outside. Reached Tuesday evening, Israel declined to discuss whether the gun had malfunctioned.

Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas and Miami Herald writer Sarah Blaskey contributed to this report.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas

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