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17 dead in Florida school shooting; suspect is former student who was expelled


Students are evacuated by police out of Stoneman Douglas High School after a shooting on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

By Matt Pearce, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Jaclyn Cosgrove
Los Angeles Times

A former student opened fire at a South Florida high school Wednesday, killing 17 people and wounding at least a dozen others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the city of Parkland, officials said.

The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was quickly arrested "without incident" in nearby Coral Springs, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Officials think he acted alone. Cruz had been expelled from the school for "disciplinary reasons" and had made "disturbing" posts on social media before the attack, Israel said.

Cruz was armed with at least one AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and "countless magazines," said Israel, who did not suggest a possible motive for the attack.

The attack Wednesday was the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with seven of the 10 deadliest shootings happening since 2007.

A young woman who just walked out from the direction of the high school, who refused to give her name, gets a hug as she reaches the overpass at Coral Springs Drive and the Sawgrass Expressway just south of the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a shooting occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

"It's a horrific situation. It's just a horrible day for us," said Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

Several students reported first hearing gunshots after someone pulled a fire alarm.

Hannah Siren, 14, was in math class on the third floor of the freshman building, where at least part of the shooting reportedly happened.

"The people next door to us must have not locked their door," Hannah told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper, breaking into tears. "They all got shot" — seven to 10 victims, she said.

Samuel Dykes, a freshman, added that he heard gunshots and saw several bodies in a classroom on the third floor.

Another student told WSVN-TV that when she ran into a classroom on the third floor to hide, a geography teacher opened the door to let her in, and when he started closing it, the teacher "was shot and killed right there," she said. "The door was open, (the gunman) could have walked in at any time." The students hid in the corner and survived.

"He kind of shielded them," one of his students, Christina Vega, told the television station. "He actually stepped up."

Christina added: "I don't want to go back to this school. I can't go up the stairs. There's blood on the stairs."

Throughout the school, students barricaded themselves inside classrooms and closets. In one classroom video that went viral on social media, students cowered beneath desks, sobbing and screaming as repeated gunshots can be heard nearby.

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" a student cried out.

Law enforcement personnel and ambulances swarmed to the scene. Some students evacuated by walking in a chain with their hands on the shoulders of the students in front of them.

Emergency workers appeared to be treating victims for injuries on sidewalks outside the school. Parents gathered at the perimeter, some of them Christians with ash on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday, some wearing hearts to mark Valentine's Day.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the shooting and said he had spoken to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

"My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school," Trump tweeted. "We are working closely with law enforcement on the terrible Florida school shooting."

Victims were taken to Broward Health Medical Center and Broward Health North hospital.

Helicopter footage from WSVN-TV showed police searching a person with short hair, wearing a dark red shirt and dark pants. The person was handcuffed and put in the back of a police cruiser without apparent struggle.

Other students spoke to WSVN-TV after fleeing the campus. "Three shots happened, and then everyone started freaking out," said one student, who identified himself as Sebastian. "We all thought it was a fire drill. ... No one was that nervous, but when word started going around that it was shots ... everybody started running."

Another student who declined to give her name reported hearing "five pops" after someone pulled a fire alarm.

"Kids were freaking out. Some kids froze; some were on their phones. Some were trying to Snapchat because they thought it was a joke, and it wasn't," she said.

One student claimed to have met the gunman at an off-campus learning center after getting kicked out of school.

"He's been a troubled kid, and he's always had a certain amount of issues going on," the student told WSVN-TV, saying the suspect previously had shown him pictures of guns on his cellphone. "I stayed clear of him" in the alternative school because "I didn't want to be with him at all ... because of the impression he gave off."

The student added another concern: The suspected gunman himself had probably participated in the school's active-shooter drills. "He's been in the drills multiple times, so he knows where to go."

An Instagram account belonging to "cruz _ nikolas" was taken down shortly after the shooting. The account included photos of a young man wearing U.S. Army hats posing with guns and knives, his face mostly concealed.

In posts, he appeared to be feuding with others, talked about background checks and plans to purchase a rifle he would outfit with a scope "for hunting." 

Posts included a photo of the definition of the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar," God is Great — with the poster's own mocking caption, including an anti-Muslim slur. Another post included a target riddled with bullet holes labeled "Group Therapy."

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