Accused South Florida school shooter confessed to rampage that killed 17 people, police say
February 15 at 4:43 PM Email the author
PARKLAND, Fla. â" The 19-year-old accused of gunning down 17 people at his former high school admitted he carried out the shooting rampage, authorities said in court papers filed Thursday.
Police wrote that Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, told officers that he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday wielding an AR-15 rifle and began shooting students in the hallways and outside on the schoolâs grounds.
Once students began to flee the carnage, Cruz dropped his rifle and vest packed with additional ammunition âso he could blend into the crowd,â an officer wrote in a probable-cause affidavit. Cruz had taken an Uber to the school, officials wrote, so he fled on foot along with those running from the scene. An officer found him not long afte rward walking on a residential street.
The revelations came as police vowed to make sure that âjustice is servedâ after one of the countryâs deadliest school shootings. A day after the Valentineâs Day shooting rampage, authorities had not publicly announced a motivation for the carnage, but they were digging into elements of Cruzâs troubled past, including a pattern of disciplinary issues and unnerving behavior.
[ Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz: Guns, depression and a life in trouble ]
Also on Thursday, FBI investigators were pursuing information suggesting that Cruz might have been associated with a Florida-based white supremacist group. But agents were still trying to determine the extent of his involvement with the group, if any, according to a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing investigation.
It was not immediately clear what connection might exist between the shooting rampage and Cruzâs po ssible link to the group.
The Anti-Defamation League reported Thursday that a spokesman for the white supremacist group said Cruz participated in some of its training exercises. The spokesman told the ADL that the group did not order or want Cruz to carry out any attack like the school rampage. The Washington Post was not immediately able to reach members of the group on Thursday.
What unfolded inside the high school was a grimly familiar sight, as another school turned into a war zone in an otherwise quiet suburban community transformed by a hail of bullets and a torrent of anguish.
In the aftermath, investigators sifted through the background of Cruz, who had been expelled from the same school. He had a history of disciplinary issues and a fascination with guns, people who knew him said.
A witness whose name is redacted from the report filed in court Thursday recognized Cruz as a troubled former student when he arrived at Douglas before the shooting, ca rrying a black duffel bag and wearing a black backpack. Cruz told police that he had extra loaded magazines in the backpack, they wrote in the report.
The witness quoted in the report said they radioed a co-worker to say that Cruz was approaching, and within a minute, heard gunshots and called a âCode Red,â which announced an emergency.
Cruzâs attorneys did not specifically say Thursday that he had confessed to the shooting, nor did they explicitly deny his involvement.
Early Thursday, Cruz was booked on 17 counts of âmurder premeditated.â He briefly appeared in court and was ordered held without bond. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel vowed that law enforcement officials would make sure Cruz was convicted on all charges.
âThis community is hurting right nowâ¦. Todayâs a day of healing,â Israel said at a briefing Thursday morning. âTodayâs a day of mourning.â
Israel said that police have identified all of the victims and pl anned to release their names later in the day. Some were students, but at least one staff member â" a beloved football coach who had attended the school before returning to work there â" was among the dead.
The coach, Aaron Feis, was shot after throwing himself in front of students, the schoolâs football team said on Twitter, writing that he had âselflessly shielded students from the shooterâ and âdied a hero.â
In addition to the 17 killed in the school and outside, 15 people were wounded, authorities said. Three of them remained in critical condition Thursday, while some others were still hospitalized.
Israel said it was âa pretty good assumptionâ that the shooter had unspecified mental-health issues.
During a news conference after Cruzâs court hearing, the public defender representing him described the 19-year-old as a âbroken young man â who is âvery saddenedâ by what happened. Cruz is on suicide watch, he added.
âThis is an emotionally broken young man,â Gordon Weeks, the public defender, told reporters. âHe has been through a lot of trauma. He has suffered significant mental illness, and significant mental trauma.â
But while school officials, students and others who knew him had sensed that something was off with Cruz before the attack, none of that was enough to stop the teenager from purchasing the gun officials said was used in the attack.
Cruz bought the AR-15 himself legally, and so far it is the only gun authorities have recovered as part of the investigation, said Peter J. Forcelli, special agent in charge of the Miami field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The court filing Thursday said Cruz bought the gun in February 2017.
In his social media postings, Cruz was shown wielding other firearms, so officials continue looking for any additional weapons, but they have not found any so far, Forcelli said in an interview Thursday morning. Investigators are also reaching out to gun shops across the region to check whether Cruz had attempted to buy other weapons.
Federal authorities were looking Thursday into whether Cruz had come up on their radar before. The FBI said agents investigated a comment on YouTube last year that threatened a school shooting but were unable to identify the person who posted it.
âThe comment simply said, âIâm going to be a professional school shooter,'â Robert F. Lasky, special agent in charge of the FBIâs Miami division, said at the news briefing Thursday. âNo other information was included in that comment.â
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Lasky spoke after BuzzFeed News reported that a YouTube user had contacted the bureau after seeing someone with Cruzâs name post that same message. Lasky said that authorities, who investigated the comment last year and were looking at it again after the Parkland shooting, still do not know if the comment was posted by Cruz.
The tip to the FBI âcame in the fall of 2017, but when agents checked the name Nikolas Cruz against their internal databases, they could find no other derogatory information on him, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.
[ No, there havenât been 18 school shootings in 2018. That number is flat wrong. ]
Authorities said Cruz fired upon students outside and inside the school before escaping with those who were running away. Amid the chaos, he ditched his rifle, âblended in with fleeing students and was able to elude arriving officers,â prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday.
Israel said Thursday that there was an armed school resource officer on the D ouglas campus when the shooting occurred but that âhe never encountered Cruz.â
Cruz was taken into custody in nearby Coral Springs, not far from the school. A police officer from Coconut Creek, another nearby city, was driving down a residential street when he saw what looked like any other teenager walking down the road.
âHe looked like a typical high school student,â Officer Michael Leonard told reporters Thursday.
Then Leonard said his training kicked in and he realized the teenager was wearing clothes that matched a description broadcast over the police radio. He took Cruz into custody without any resistance.
The bloodshed inside Douglas, which would remain closed at least through the rest of the week, was staggering even for veteran law enforcement professionals. Forcelli, a homicide detective in New York before he joined ATF, described what he saw as particularly horrifying.
âThis is a bad crime scene,â said Forcelli, who was at t he school for hours on Wednesday. âIâve seen plenty of dead bodies. Seeing kids, defenseless kids, piled up, it weighs on youâ¦. I canât imagine the pain the families have. Thereâs a lot of victims here.â
In televised remarks at the White House, President Trump pledged that his administration would help âtackle the difficult issue of mental healthâ and said the issue of improving safety in schools would be the top priority during a meeting later this month with governors and state attorneys general.
[ Student who survived Florida shooting pleads with Trump and Congress: âPlease, take actionâ ]
Even as the shooting was followed with questions about whether the country would revisit its gun-control laws, Trump, much like Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) when he spoke earlier near the shooting scene, made no mention of that issue. Both officials instead stressed the importance of focusing on mental health in response to Floridaâs third mass shooting in as many years.
Former president Barack Obama, who frequently had to address a nation rocked by mass violence during his time in office, wrote on Twitter that âwe are not powerlessâ and called for âlong overdue, common-sense gun safety laws.âAnalysis | More than 50 years of U.S. mass shootings: The victims, sites, killers and weapons View Graphic
Analysis | More than 50 years of U.S. mass shootings: The victims, sites, killers and weapons
Israel, the sheriff, said the shooting was âcatastrophic.â He also warned of copycat threats made at other schools in the area. His officers responded to a report of a shooting at another school in the county, and while no threat was found, one of those deputies accidentally fired his own weapon and injured his leg.
[ The lives lost in the Parkland school shooting ]
The threat spoke to the tension still lingering across South Florida as it became the latest region to grapple with a seemingly endless procession of shooting rampages that have cut down Americans in their schools, churches, offices and movie theaters.
Berman and Barrett reported from Washington. David Nakamura, Brian Murphy, Moriah Balingit, Fred Barbash, William Wan, Jennifer Jenkins, Sarah Larimer and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report, which has been updated. David Weingrad reported from New York.Source: Google News