Sus­pect, equipped with gas mask and smoke grenades, was a for­mer stu­dent ex­pelled for dis­ci­plinary rea­sons, po­lice say


PARK­LAND, Fla. — A for­mer stu­dent opened fire with a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle at a Florida high school Wed­nes­day, killing at least 17 peo­ple and send­ing hun­dreds of stu­dents flee­ing into the streets in the na­tion’s dead­li­est school shoot­ing since a gun­man at­tacked an el­e­men­tary school in New­town, Con­necti­cut.

The shooter, who was equipped with a gas mask and smoke grenades, set off a fire alarm to draw stu­dents out of class­rooms shortly be­fore the day ended at one of the state’s largest schools, of­fi­cials said.

Au­thor­i­ties of­fered no im­me­di­ate details on the 19- year- old sus­pect or any pos­si­ble mo­tive, ex­cept to say that he had been kicked out of Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School, which has about 3,000 stu­dents.

Stu­dents who knew the shooter, iden­ti­fied as Niko­las Cruz, de­scribed a volatile teenager whose strange be­hav­ior had caused others to end friend­ships with him, par­tic­u­larly after the fight that led to his ex­pul­sion.

Fran­tic par­ents rushed to the school to find SWAT team mem­bers and am­bu­lances sur­round­ing the huge cam­pus. Live tele­vi­sion footage showed emer­gency work­ers who ap­peared to be treat­ing the wounded on side­walks.

“It is a hor­rific sit­u­a­tion,” said Robert Run­cie, su­per­in­ten­dent of the school dis­trict in Park­land, about an hour’s drive north of Mi­ami. “It is a hor­ri­ble day for us.”

The sus­pect was taken into cus­tody with­out a fight in a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood about a mile away. He had mul­ti­ple mag­a­zines of am­mu­ni­tion, au­thor­i­ties said.

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

The at­tacker used the fire alarm “so the kids would come pour­ing out of the class­rooms into the hall,” Sen. Bill Nel­son told CNN.

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

The Florida Demo­crat said he did not know if the gun­man used the smoke grenades, but he as­sumed that’s why he had a gas mask on.

Most of the fa­tal­i­ties were in­side the build­ing, though some vic­tims were found out­side. The dead in­cluded a foot­ball coach, the sher­iff said.

More than a dozen other peo­ple were wounded and taken to hos­pi­tals, doc­tors said.

Vic­to­ria Olvera, a ju­nior at the school, 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 his girl­friend.

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

Dakota Mutch­ler, an­other ju­nior, said he used to be friends with Cruz. But he cut off the friend­ship as Cruz’s be­hav­ior “started pro­gres­sively get­ting a lit­tle more weird.” Cruz posted on In­sta­gram about killing an­i­mals and threat­ened one of Mutch­ler’s friends, he said.

He re­mem­bered that Cruz had a pel­let gun and did tar­get prac­tice in his back­yard.

Stu­dent Daniel Huer­fano said he rec­og­nized Cruz from an In­sta­gram photo in which Cruz had posed with a gun in front of his face.

Cruz “was that weird kid that you see . . . like a loner,” he said. Fresh­man Max Charles was in class when he heard five gun­shots.

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

As he was leaving the build­ing, he saw four dead stu­dents and one dead teacher. He said he was re­lieved when he fi­nally found his mother.

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

About an hour after the at­tack, Michael Nem­b­hard was sit­ting in his garage on a cul- de- sac when he saw a young man in a bur­gundy shirt walk­ing down the street. In an in­stant, a po­lice cruiser pulled up, and of­fi­cers jumped out with guns drawn.

“All I heard was ‘ Get on the ground! Get on the ground!’” Nem­b­hard said. He said the man did as he was told.

The day started nor­mally at the school, which had a morn­ing fire drill. Stu­dents were in class around 2: 30 p. m. when an­other alarm sounded.

Ju­nior Noah Par­ness said he and the other stu­dents calmly went out­side to their fire- drill ar­eas 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.”

Beth Fein­gold said her daugh­ter, Brit­tani, sent a text that said, “We’re on code red. I’m fine,” but sent an­other text shortly af­ter­ward say­ing, “Mom, I’m so scared.” She was later able to es­cape.

Stu­dents heard loud bangs as the shooter fired. Many of them hid un­der desks or in clos­ets and bar­ri­caded doors.

Tele­vi­sion footage showed stu­dents leaving in a sin­gle- file line with their hands over their heads as of­fi­cers urged them to evac­u­ate quickly.

The school was to be closed for the rest of the week.

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 killed 26 peo­ple — 20 first­graders and six staff mem­bers.

The 20- year- old Con­necti­cut gun­man, who also fa­tally shot his mother in her bed, then killed him­self.


Max Charles, a fresh­man who heard the gun­shots and said “I thought maybe I could die.’


TOP: Stu­dents re­leased from a lock­down em­brace fol­low­ing the shoot­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Wed­nes­day in Park­land, Florida.

ABOVE: Stu­dents are brought out of the school after the shoot­ing that killed at least 17 and in­jured more than a dozen. | JOHN MC­CALL/ SOUTH FLORIDA SUN- SEN­TINEL VIA AP ( TOP);

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