Florida teen charged with 17 murders; Trump plans address

Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.

Fourteen wounded survivors were hospitalized as bodies were recovered from inside and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Nikolas Cruz, still wearing a hospital gown after being treated for laboured breathing, and weighing in at 5-foot-7 and 131 pounds, was ordered held without bond and booked into jail.

His former classmates thought they were having another drill Wednesday afternoon when a fire alarm sounded, requiring them to leave their classrooms.

That’s when police say Cruz, equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple magazines of ammunition, opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, killing 17 people and sending hundreds of students fleeing into the streets.

Related: 17 dead, suspect identified in Florida school shooting

It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago. The overall death toll differs by how such shootings are defined, but Everytown For Gun Safety has tallied 290 school shootings in America since 2013, and this attack makes 18 so far this year.

Cruz purchased the AR-15 legally about a year ago, a law enforcement official who is familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. The official, not authorized to discuss this publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity. Federal law allows people 18 and older to legally purchase long guns, including this kind of assault weapon.

President Donald Trump’s reaction focused on Cruz’s mental health.

“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” Trump tweeted Thursday.

Trump also issued a proclamation saying, in part, “Our Nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones,” and planned to address the nation about the shooting. Among the many other responses, the New York Stock Exchange held a minute of silence after its opening bell.

Authorities offered no immediate details about a possible motive, except to say that Cruz had been kicked out of the high school, which has about 3,000 students. Students who knew him described a volatile teenager whose strange behaviour had caused others to end friendships with him.

Cruz’s mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia on Nov. 1 neighbours, friends and family members said, according to the Sun Sentinel . Cruz and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Nikolas and his biological brother, Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island in New York to Broward County.

The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, said family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island.

Unhappy there, Nikolas Cruz asked to move in with a friend’s family in northwest Broward. That family agreed and Cruz moved in around Thanksgiving. According to the family’s lawyer, who did not identify them, they knew that Cruz owned the AR-15 but made him keep it locked up in a cabinet. He did have the key, however.

Attorney Jim Lewis said the family is co-operating with authorities, and had no idea he was planning the shooting.

He seemed like “just a mildly troubled kid who’d lost his mom” during the three months they lived together; respectful and quiet, but also said because his mother had died, Lewis said.

They had “no indication that anything severe like this was wrong,” Lewis said. “He totally kept this from everybody.”

Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was expelled last school year because he got into a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. She said he had been abusive to the girl.

“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” said Dakota Mutchler, also 17.

Cruz was taken into custody without a fight about an hour after the shooting in a residential neighbourhood about a mile away. He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.

“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

The sheriff said 12 bodies were found inside the building, two others outside and another a short distance away from the school.

Sen. Bill Nelson told CNN that Cruz had pulled the fire alarm “so the kids would come pouring out of the classrooms into the hall.”

“And there the carnage began,” said Nelson, who said he was briefed by the FBI.

Frantic parents rushed to the school to find SWAT team members and ambulances surrounding the huge campus and emergency workers treating the wounded on sidewalks. Students who had taken shelter inside classrooms began leaving in a single-file line with their hands over their heads as officers urged them to evacuate quickly.

Hearing loud bangs as the shooter fired, many of the students hid under desks or in closets, and barricaded doors.

“We were in the corner, away from the windows,” said freshman Max Charles, who said he heard five gunshots. “The teacher locked the door and turned off the light. I thought maybe I could die or something.”

Charles said he passed four dead students and one dead teacher on his way out, and was relieved to finally find his mother.

“I was happy that I was alive,” Max said. “She was crying when she saw me.”

Noah Parness, a 17-year-old junior, calmly joined others walking to their fire-drill area outside when he suddenly heard popping sounds.

“We saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint,” Parness said. “I hopped a fence.”

The scene was reminiscent of the Newtown attack, which shocked even a country numbed by the regularity of school shootings. The Dec. 14, 2012, assault at Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 26 people: 20 first-graders and six staff members. The 20-year-old gunman, who also fatally shot his mother in her bed, then killed himself.

___

Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson, and Joshua Replogle in Miami, Sadie Gurman in Washington and Bernard McGhee in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Terry Spencer And Kelli Kennedy, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

B.C. BUDGET: Fare freeze, free travel for seniors on BC Ferries

A complete fare freeze will be put into place on major routes, and fares will be rolled back on smaller routes by 15 per cent

BC BUDGET: New spaces a step to universal child care

Fees reduced for licensed daycare operators

BC BUDGET: NDP cracks down on speculators, hidden ownership

Foreign buyers’ tax extended to Fraser Valley, Okanagan, Vancouver Island

BC BUDGET: Payroll tax replaces medical premiums

Health spending to increase $1.5 billion for drugs, primary care teams

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

VIDEO: Top 10 B.C. budget highlights

The NDP is focusing on childcare, affordable housing and speeding up the elimination of MSP premiums

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Canucks blow three goal lead, lose to Avalanche in overtime

Vancouver struggled on the penalty kill, as Colorado scored all five goals on the powerplay

Widow of avalanche victim sues Golden lodge operator

A woman from Alberta is suing guides, their mountain guide association and the lodge operator for negligence

BC BUDGET: NDP hope to nix court delays with $15 million cash influx

Union says funding could stop sheriffs from leaving for higher paid jobs

Cattlemen urge B.C. to prevent erosion caused during 2017 wildfire season

Other concerns are fencing restoration and repair, and a lack of feed for cattle.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Follow the 2017 Tour de Rock

Follow the Tour de Rock, as they pedal more than 1,000 kilometres fundraising to combat paediatric cancer

Patrick Brown’s Tory leadership bid fate looms

Brown’s bid to for Tory leadership to be decided on Wednesday

Duncan cousins found guilty of aggravated sexual assault

Assault so violent, victim required surgery

Most Read