Florida teen charged with 17 murder counts in school attack

2018-02-15 21:43
Parents meet at a hotel in Coral Springs to pick up their children, following a shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. (Jim Rassol, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Parents meet at a hotel in Coral Springs to pick up their children, following a shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. (Jim Rassol, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

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Parkland - A twice-orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and an AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday morning after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the deadliest school shooting in the US in five years.

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

Just before the shooting broke out, some students thought they were having another fire drill.

READ: Florida high school shooting plunges city into mourning

Such an exercise had forced them to leave their classrooms hours earlier. So when the alarm went off on Wednesday afternoon shortly before they were to be dismissed, they once again filed out into the hallways.

That's when police say Nikolas 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.

Deadliest 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.

"Our district is in a tremendous state of grief and sorrow," 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."

Authorities offered no immediate details about Cruz or his possible motive, except to say that he 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 November 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, family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island, said.

Unhappy there, Nikolas Cruz asked to move in with a friend's family in northwest Broward.

The 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.

Abusive

Jim Lewis said the family is devastated and didn't see this coming. They are co-operating with authorities, he said.

Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old 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.

Cruz was taken into custody without a fight about an hour after the shooting in a residential neighbourhood about 1.6km away. He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.

"It's catastrophic. There really are no words," said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

Frantic parents rushed to the school to find SWAT team members and ambulances surrounding the huge campus and emergency workers who appeared to be treating the wounded on sidewalks. Students who hadn't run began leaving in a single-file line with their hands over their heads as officers urged them to evacuate quickly.

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