Thursday Feb 15, 2018
PARKLAND: A former student at a Florida high school opened fire in the institute on Wednesday, causing “numerous fatalities” and wounding at least 50 before he was arrested by police, authorities said.
At least 17 people were reported dead, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — about 72 kilometres (45 miles) north of Miami — with dozens of police and emergency officials surrounding the building as hundreds of panicked students fled towards the streets.
Nikolaus Cruz, 19, the gunman, surrendered to police quietly, Israel added. He had used an AR-15 rifle.
“There was a time when he did attend the school,” Israel said. “I don’t know why he left, I don’t know when he left.”
A teacher at the school said Cruz had been identified previously as a potential threat to his classmates.
"We were told last year that he wasn't allowed on campus with a backpack on him," math teacher Jim Gard said in a Miami Herald interview.
"There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus."
Cruz was also said to have been in the Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program while at school.
A former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Cruz had been expelled for "disciplinary reasons", but was currently enrolled in Broward County Public Schools.
His fellow students described him as "troubled".
Cruz was arrested without incident in the nearby town of Coral Springs after the Valentine's Day rampage and taken to hospital with minor injuries, the sheriff said.
"We have already begun to dissect his websites and things on social media that he was on and some of the things... are very, very disturbing," Israel said.
"If a person is predisposed to commit such a horrific event by going to a school and shooting people... there's not anybody or not a lot law enforcement can do about it."
The school had been placed on a “code red” lockdown but had no information on victims, a spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s office said.
“There are numerous fatalities. It’s a horrific situation,” Broward Country Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters. He said the school district had gotten no warning of a potential shooter and that there was no evidence of more than one shooter.
US President Donald Trump, who was also briefed on the matter shortly after the incident, offered his condolences to the victims, saying "no child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school".
Floridian Senator Bill Nelson, while speaking to NBC News, said there are a "number of fatalities" in the school shooting. He cited a school official.
When questioned at a press conference late Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott — who described the massacre as "just pure evil" — declined to make a statement on gun control in the aftermath of the shooting.
"There’s a time to continue to have these conversations about how through law enforcement, how through mental illness funding that we make sure people are safe, and we’ll continue to do that," said Scott, a Republican.
At the same briefing, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said the state will cover the costs of funerals and counseling for survivors.
"We will continue to work together as a team, as a family, and love and take care of all of these victims and their family members," she said.
Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky told CNN she had spoken to a number of students after the shooting erupted shortly after 2:00 pm (1900 GMT).
"They were very scared," she said. "And almost in shock when they came out."
Student Jeiella Dodoo told CBS News that she and her schoolmates evacuated calmly after hearing what they thought was a routine fire alarm.
"The alarm went off so we had to evacuate from our classes," she said. "Then we heard gunshots.
"I heard about six gunshots," she said, "and then some people started running and then everyone started running because we were like ‘If it’s real, then just run.’"
Melissa Falkowski, a teacher, told US networks that she had helped 19 students squeeze into a closet with her. "We were in there for probably 40 minutes. We were locked in the closet until SWAT came and got us," she told CNN.
Police officers in helmets, bulletproof vests and armed with automatic weapons could be seen stationed at several points around the sprawling school complex, which serves nearly 3,000 students.
"Just a horrible day for us," Robert Runcie — the superintendent of the county’s school district — said.
"This is very sad to me and our family too," 61-year-old Joseph Panikulangara, whose 17-year-old niece Dhiya attends the school, told AFP.
The FBI said it was assisting local law enforcement with the investigation.
When asked about security, Hunschofsky said a police officer is always stationed at the school and there is a "single point of entry."
McKenzie Hartley, 19, who identified herself as the sister of a student at the school described the scene in a text message to Reuters: “She heard him shooting through the windows of classrooms and two students were shot.”
Panicked parents checked on their children.
“It is just absolutely horrifying. I can’t believe this is happening,” Lissette Rozenblat, whose daughter goes to the school, told CNN. Her daughter called her to say she was safe but the student also told her mother she heard the cries of a person who was shot.
“She was very nervous. She said that she could hear the person who was shot crying out for help,” she told CNN. “My daughter is safe and I am very grateful.”
Florida’s WSVN-TV had earlier reported that at least 20 people were injured.
Live television showed dozens of students running and walking away from the school, weaving their way between large numbers of emergency vehicles including police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks.
Others, in the television images, were being led out of the school by heavily-armed police officers and an armoured vehicle filled with a SWAT team arriving at the scene.
One injured victim was seen being placed into an ambulance on a stretcher. Local FOX-10 TV reported that five people were seen being treated by paramedics.
The school had recently held a meeting to discuss what to do in such an attack, Ryan Gott, a 15-year-old freshman told CNN.
Israel, the sheriff, struggled to describe the scene: “It’s catastrophic. There really are no words.”
The shooting, one of nearly 20 at a school since the start of the year, will once again throw the spotlight on the epidemic of gun violence in the US, where there are 33,000 gun-related deaths annually.
It was the latest in a deadly series of attacks at US schools.
A 15-year-old gunman in January killed two students at a Benton, Kentucky, high school.
Since January 2013, there have been at least 291 school shootings across the country — an average of about one a week, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group that advocates for gun control.
"It is pretty clear that we’re failing our kids here," said Falkowski, the teacher who helped shield her students from harm in a closet.