At least 17 children and adults are dead and a former student is in custody after America’s latest mass shooting in a school – the fourth this year – this time in South Florida.
COMPILED FROM STAFF
AND WIRE REPORTS
PARKLAND – An American nightmare unfolded Wednesday afternoon – just prior to the Florida Courier’s press time late Wednesday night – at a North Broward County high school when a former student came onto campus and opened fire, killing 17 students and adults, and injuring multiple people.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said two people were killed outside the school, one in the street, 12 inside the school and two died from their wounds at area hospitals. Three of the injured were in critical condition in various hospitals at press time.
The suspect was identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at the school. He used an AR-15-style rifle the type used in previous mass shootings, and multiple magazines.
Details remained cloudy at the newspaper’s press time amid a flurry of police activity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland off the Sawgrass Expressway.
Students, who heard a fire alarm go off just before dismissal, followed by gunshots, fled off campus and hid under desks as police sped to the scene. Parents, blocked from getting onto campus, stood by helplessly.
Cruz, the shooter, managed to make it off campus. He was cornered and taken into custody in a townhouse at Pelican Pointe at Wyndham Lakes in Coral Springs.
“It’s a day that you pray every day when you get up that you will never have to see. It is in front of us. I ask the community for prayers and their support for the children and their families,” Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward Schools, appearing at a media staging area near the school, told WSVN Channel 7.
“We received no warning … Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”
A known threat?
A teacher at the school, however, told The Miami Herald that Cruz, 19, had been identified as a potential threat to fellow students in the past.
Math teacher Jim Gard says he believes the school administration had sent out an email warning teachers that the student had made threats against others in the past and that he should not be allowed on the campus with a backpack. Another student interviewed on the scene by Channel 7 said the student had guns at home.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said Gard, who said the former student suspected in the shootings had been in his class last year. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
Maybe a drill
The shooting began just before dismissal, after someone pulled the fire alarm. Students and teachers were puzzled because the school had already held a fire drill that day. Ironically, schools around the county were all undergoing similar drills.
Then a code red, school lingo for a lockdown, was read over the loudspeaker.
“Six kids ran back into my room, and I locked the door, turned out the lights and had the kids go to the back of the room,” Gard said. “I told the kids to hang in there, it may still be a drill.”
On the first floor, freshman Geovanni Vilsant, 15, said he was in a Spanish classroom when a fire alarm went off, urging all the students out of their classrooms. Then, two minutes later, gun shots rang out enveloping the three-floor building in explosions.
Geovanni Vilsant said he saw three bloody bodies on the floor as he was fleeing the school. “There was blood everywhere,” he said. “They weren’t moving.”
His older brother, who jumped a fence and sought refuge in a nearby neighborhood, ran back around to try to find his brother.
“I had to go back for him,” Bradley Vilsant said from a nearby Wal-Mart where the brothers fled with about 100 other students.
Most of the students remained calm. One high school senior elsewhere at the school told The Miami Herald that there were “SWAT teams everywhere with big guns, cops everywhere, helicopters.” She said parents trying to reach their children were unable to make it to the school because the streets are closed off.
A real shooting
But by 2:40 p.m., Gard says, they knew it wasn’t a drill. Bullets flew.
Initially, the Coral Springs Police Department urged teachers and students to remain barricaded inside until police reach them. Students posted pictures to social media taken from under their desks.
Police, who flooded the school, began clearing buildings one at a time. Students streamed out in a line with their hands up. Others frantically ran, book bags strapped to their backs. The evacuation started under the direction of police officers, and the students were guided to nearby parking lots by officers as well.
Law enforcement and the district’s Special Investigative Unit are on site, as is the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Federal authorities said they don’t believe the high school shootings are related to terrorism.
The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, consisting of local, state and federal agents, sent a squad to the school to assist the Broward Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement.
“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting,” President Donald Trump tweeted. “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
Kyra Gurney, David Smiley and Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald / TNS all contributed to this report.