A former student who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons opened fire at a South Florida high school Wednesday, killing 17 people and wounding at least a dozen others, authorities said.
The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was quickly arrested “without incident” after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Cruz 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. Officials think he acted alone.
“This has been a day we’ve seen the worst of humanity,” said Broward County Public Schools Supt. Robert Runcie.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the investigation would attempt to determine how a former high school student came to be armed with such a powerful weapon. “You come to the conclusion that this is just absolutely pure evil,” he said.
Several students reported first hearing gunshots after someone pulled a fire alarm shortly before the end of school. Initially, they were confused. The school had held a fire drill earlier in the day.
Students were walking out of math teacher Jim Gard’s classroom when a “code red” was announced over the school intercom — a warning about an active shooter. Most of Gard’s students had already left, and he was only able to get six of them back into the classroom. He turned off the lights and locked the door.
Then, he said, “We heard all the popping noises.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) told MSNBC that Cruz wore a gas mask and brought smoke grenades with him. Cruz set off the fire alarm “so the kids would come out into the hallways, and thus he had the opportunity with a crowded hallway to start picking off people,” Nelson said.
Cruz initially escaped by folding into the crowd, Broward County authorities said in a news release. “Responding deputies were met with hundreds of students fleeing the school. Investigators later learned that the shooter had concealed himself in the crowd and was among those running out of the school,” it said.
Fifteen victims died at the school and two others died at a hospital, police said.
Cruz was taken to a hospital as a “precaution” after exhibiting “labored breathing” when he was taken into custody in a neighborhood in nearby Coral Springs, authorities said.
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.
Law enforcement personnel and ambulances swarmed to the school. 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.
Victims were taken to Broward Health Medical Center and Broward Health North hospital. By nightfall, officials had identified 12 of the 17 victims, and Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi promised the state would pay for each of the victims’ funerals.
The task of identification was made difficult by students who were killed without their backpacks or cellphones, officials said.