Sunday 22 April 2018

'He was crazy about guns' - Former classmate on suspect in deadly Florida school shooting that left 17 dead

  • 17 killed in the latest school shooting
  • Suspect is former student who was expelled
  • Nikolas Cruz (19) was arrested about an hour after a shooting rampage
  • Former classmate said he was "crazy about guns"
  • President Donald Trump expresses his condolences
Students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Students released from a lockdown are overcome with emotion following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Students released from a lockdown embrace following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Police and rescue workers attend the scene near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 14, 2018 in a still image taken from a video. WSVN.com via REUTERS.
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The man accused of opening fire at a Florida high school on Wednesday, killing 17 people, was a troubled former student who loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, police and former classmates said.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arrested about an hour after a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters.

Students released from a lockdown are overcome with emotion following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Students released from a lockdown are overcome with emotion following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Cruz, who had been expelled from the school for reasons that have not been made public, was found with multiple ammunition magazines and one AR-15-style rifle, Israel said.

"We already began to dissect his websites and the things on social media that he was on and some of the things that came to mind are very, very disturbing," Israel said.

Chad Williams, 18, a senior at Stoneman Douglas High school, remembered Cruz as a troubled classmate from middle school. He said Cruz would set off the fire alarm, day after day, and finally got expelled in the eighth grade.

More recently, Williams saw Cruz carrying several publications about guns when they ran into each other at the high school. Williams thought Cruz was there to pick up a younger sibling.

"He was crazy about guns," Williams told Reuters by the side of the road near the high school. "He was kind of an outcast. He didn't have many friends. He would do anything crazy for a laugh, but he was trouble."

Jillian Davis, 19, said she was in a school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps with Cruz in the 9th grade. She remembered him as a quiet and shy young man who would almost change personality when angry. He talked a lot about guns and knives but no one took him seriously, she told Reuters.

Students released from a lockdown embrace following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Students released from a lockdown embrace following following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

"I would say he was not the most normal or sane kid in JROTC. He definitely had a little something off about him. He was a little extra quirky," said Davis, who graduated from the school last year.

Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami Herald Cruz had been banned from returning to campus while carrying a backpack.

"There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus," Gard told the newspaper in an interview.

Administrators sent an email to teachers warning them about Cruz, Gard told the paper.

Police and rescue workers attend the scene near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 14, 2018 in a still image taken from a video. WSVN.com via REUTERS.
Police and rescue workers attend the scene near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 14, 2018 in a still image taken from a video. WSVN.com via REUTERS.

Another student, 17-year-old junior Dakota Mutchler, told reporters at a hotel in nearby Coral Springs that he hadn't spoken with Cruz in more than a year. Students were reuniting with their parents and friends at the hotel.

Mutchler said he declined to communicate with Cruz, a former friend, after the suspect contacted him two weeks ago on Snapchat.

"Everybody that knew of him had a sort of suspicion about him," Mutchler said. Cruz had once told him he had used a pellet gun in his backyard for target practice, he said.

Travis Julmice, an 18-year-old senior, said he had not been in a class with Cruz since middle school.

"You could tell he was a little off," Julmice told Reuters at the Coral Springs hotel. "He was always like a troubled kid, getting in-school suspension a lot. And detentions."

However, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters outside the school after the shooting that the school had no indication Cruz was a danger.

"Typically, you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there," he said. "But we didn't have any warnings, there weren't any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made."

Runcie later said Cruz was still a student at Broward County Public Schools but declined to provide further details.

Israel said earlier Cruz may have been enrolled at Taravella High School in Coral Springs after his expulsion but the sheriff did not know if Cruz still attended Taravella.

Swat teams swarmed the school, and the gunman was arrested without incident off campus.

Television footage showed police putting a person in the back of a police car outside the high school.

The sheriff said the gunman had at least one rifle and multiple magazines, and most of the fatalities were inside the building though some were found outside.

The suspect was later identified as Nikolas Cruz.

There were scenes of students frantically running from the building and ambulance crews treating people outside the school on Wednesday afternoon.

Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie said: "There are numerous fatalities. It is a horrific situation." 

He added: "It is a horrible day for us."

The White House cancelled its daily press briefing following the news and President Donald Trump has spoken with Florida governor Rick Scott.

The president tweeted: "My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting.

"No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school."

Parent John Obin said his son, a student at the school, was in class when he heard several shots.

The father said his son advised that teachers quickly rushed students out of the school.

"This is a really good school, and now it's like a war zone," Mr Obin said.

Coral Springs Police said earlier on Twitter that the school had been locked down and that students and teachers inside should remain barricaded until police reached them.

Outside, television footage showed two people on stretchers and another person being treated on the ground near the school.

Paramedics were treating those who appeared to be students with injuries.

Len Murray, whose 17-year-old son attends the school, was stopped by authorities within view of the building.

He said: "I'm scared for the other parents here. You can see the concern in everybody's faces.

"Everybody is asking: 'Have you heard from your child yet?'"

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