FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Shortly before 5:45 a.m. Thursday, the young man accused in a shooting that left more than a dozen people dead was escorted into Broward’s Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale. Nikolas Cruz was surrounded by Broward sheriff’s deputies who walked him inside the facility.
Some 15 hours earlier, the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook erupted as authorities say a 19-year-old man with a troubled past and an AR-15 rifle stalked the halls of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Expelled from the school over disciplinary problems, Cruz is accused of squeezing off shot after shot as students took cover under desks, fire alarms blared and teachers barricaded classrooms. By the time it was over Wednesday, 17 people were dead or dying, and 16 were wounded.
The AR-15 used in the mass shooting was legally bought by Cruz, attorney Jim Lewis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Cruz already owned the gun when he moved in with his friend’s family in northwest Broward around Thanksgiving, Lewis said. “It was his gun,” Lewis said. “The family made him keep it in a locked gun cabinet in the house but he had a key.”
The family did not see him shooting the AR-15 but did see him shooting pellet guns, Lewis said.
Cruz was arrested off campus and was taken to Broward Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. Although some students described Cruz as a normal teenager, others and some of his neighbors called him strange, troubled and depressed.
A firearms enthusiast whose adoptive mother died last November, Cruz talked about shooting lizards, squirrels and frogs, said Trevor Hart, who knew him from Spanish class and said he seemed “a little off.” Police were called to his house numerous times, said a former neighbor, Shelby Speno, and he was seen shooting at a neighbor’s chickens.
“He wore a hoodie and always had his head down,” said Janine Kartiganer, a former neighbor. “He looked depressed.”
Panicked parents streamed to this affluent section of northwest Broward County on Wednesday afternoon, as news helicopters broadcast the incident live, police officers crouched behind cars with guns drawn and students congregated on streets, many crying, hugging and calling friends and family.
In a blurry Snapchat video from inside the school, a man yelled, “Oh, my God,” as the pop-pop, pop-pop of gunshots rang out and students screamed.
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said 17 people were killed, including both students and adults, with two shot outside the school, one in the street, 12 inside the school and two dying from their wounds at the hospital. Five of the victims remain unidentified, he said. This was the worst school shooting since 26 children and adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
Investigators have begun analyzing Cruz’s social media accounts, which the sheriff said contained material that was “very, very disturbing.”
Coconut Creek police arrested him in a nearby neighborhood in Coral Springs, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Wearing a red shirt, black pants and black boots, Cruz was placed on a gurney.
He was showing signs of labored breathing. So at 4:47 p.m., he was wheeled into Broward Health North hospital in Deerfield Beach. Later he was taken from the hospital to Broward Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.
“People are still undergoing surgery,” Israel said. “We just pray for this city, pray for this school, the parents, the folks that lost their lives. It’s a horrific, horrific day.”
Among those shot was the school’s athletic director, Chris Hixon, according to the school’s assistant athletic director Marilyn Rule. No information was immediately available on his condition.
Seventeen victims were taken to four area hospitals, and two of those victims died at the hospital.
Seven victims were being treated at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Dr. Benny Menendez told a crowd of reporters. Two were in critical condition and five were stable.
“We do drills and when this happens we’re ready,” Menendez said. “We practice for this.”
The school, located in a well-off, low-crime neighborhood near the Everglades, will be closed for the rest of the week.
(Staff writers Paula McMahon, Susannah Bryan, Gary Curreri, Anne Geggis, Skyler Swisher and Scott Travis contributed to this report.)
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