Sunday 20 January 2019

Shooting blame game begins

Florida survivors demand gun control, as early warning signs about the shooter were ignored by authorities, says Mike Wright

Gun control — The elephant in the room: Donald and Melania Trump speak with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel while visiting the Sheriff’s Office in Pompano Beach, Florida, last Friday — three days after a mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at a nearby school. Photo: Getty Images
Gun control — The elephant in the room: Donald and Melania Trump speak with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel while visiting the Sheriff’s Office in Pompano Beach, Florida, last Friday — three days after a mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at a nearby school. Photo: Getty Images

Mike Wright

Thousands of angry students, parents and residents have demanded stricter gun control laws, as new details were revealed about the suspect accused of killing 17 people in a Florida high school.

The rally in Fort Lauderdale was attended by scores of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting happened. Teenagers spoke passionately during the rally, pleading with legislators to change America's gun laws.

One student, Emma Gonzalez, angrily criticised politicians who take campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. She challenged them to stop taking money, leading the crowd in a call-and-response chant.

"They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun," she said, and the crowd chanted, "We call BS."

She also said adults who knew that the shooter was mentally ill should have done more to prevent him from having a weapon.

Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 people in one of America's worst school shootings, left a trail of anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and homicidal messages on social media.

Cruz has admitted killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a middle-class suburb of Miami, on Valentine's Day. Defence lawyers claim he is autistic. They also say he is remorseful and will plead guilty in the hope of being spared the death penalty.

Cruz's made his comments on a private group containing half a dozen people on the Instagram messaging service, which is owned by Facebook. The name of the group was 'Murica great', accompanied by an American flag and eagle, and Cruz began posting to it in August last year.

Cruz used the group to stir hatred including messages detailing how he wanted to kill Mexicans, put black people in chains, that he believed Jews were taking over the world, and that gay people should be "shot in the back of [the] head".

He wrote that white women in relationships with black men were traitors, and called himself the "annihilator".

In one message he wrote: "I think I am going to kill people." On another occasion, he wrote "guys I got paid $330, I am buying body armour", and suggested wearing it to school.

When asked why, he replied: "School shooters." He posted pictures of himself wearing the body armour. One of the group's other members suggested a cheap piece of equipment he could buy that would turn his semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic weapon.

Cruz, who was born in New York, was adopted as a baby by Roger and Lynda Cruz, who took him to Florida. Roger Cruz died in 2004 and Lynda Cruz died from pneumonia in 2017.

On Instagram, Cruz wrote: "My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her."

Cruz had a history of violent behaviour and police were called to his home 39 times in the seven years prior to the shooting.

His behaviour is said to have deteriorated after his mother died last November and he moved in with another family. According to reports, Cruz left this family's mobile home around Thanksgiving after he and the family squared off over a gun.

"He bought a gun and wanted to bring it into my house," said the foster parent in a post that has since been wiped from their Facebook page. Cruz was given an ultimatum - and he "chose the gun and left".

He then moved in with another family whose son also attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

It also emerged that Cruz had previously been treated at a mental health clinic - and despite this he was still able to legally purchase an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and large amounts of ammunition, passing a state background check.

It has also been revealed that Cruz was a member of the high school's rifle team and represented it in shooting competitions. The 19-year-old was described as "a very good shot" by members of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programme at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Members of the school's JROTC recounted troubling signs in Cruz's behaviour and also his mother's hopes that the military-sponsored programme could teach her son "discipline".

When Cruz was arrested he was wearing a maroon shirt with the JROTC logo. The JROTC marksmanship programme, which receives funding from the NRA, used air rifles made for target shooting, typically on indoor ranges at targets the size of a coin.

Former JROTC cadets said Cruz was a member of the small marksmanship team that trained together after class and travelled to other schools to compete.

It was a close-knit group and when one of the other cadets started calling Cruz "Wolf", the nickname stuck.

Cruz spoke about guns and knives incessantly and liked to wear military-style clothing to school. He also bragged about shooting animals for fun.

"He told me he would attack little animals with pellet guns and stuff, like squirrels and lizards - and I was a little weirded out by that," said Kyle Ramos, who was with Cruz in the JROTC.

Cruz sometimes missed target practice because he had detention. Ramos remembered Aaron Feis, a member of the school's security staff, coming to get Cruz out of JROTC class because he was in some sort of trouble. Feis, who was also a football coach at the school, was among those killed. He was reported to have sustained multiple gunshot wounds while using his body to shield his students from the bullets.

In the days since the shooting, it has emerged that there were a litany of missed warnings about Cruz.

Last year, the school reportedly sent an email to its teachers telling them not to let Cruz on site if he was carrying a backpack, after bullets were found in his bag. He was then expelled after fighting with the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend, according to a fellow pupil.

On September 24, a YouTube user calling themselves Nikolas Cruz posted a message saying: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

It was left on the YouTube page of Ben Bennight, a bail bondsman in Mississippi, who immediately reported it to YouTube and the FBI. The following day he was visited by two FBI agents, who took photographs of the post.

Pressure is mounting on FBI director Christopher Wray to resign after the bureau admitted that it failed to investigate a telephone tip on January 5 alerting it to disturbing social media posts and suggesting Cruz had a "desire to kill". It is not known if the tip came from one of the members of the Instagram group.

It also emerged that in 2016 Cruz cut his arms on Snapchat, the social media service, and said he wanted to buy a gun.

That led to a social services investigation which found: "Mr Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for."

However, the probe concluded he was "low risk".

Funerals for the victims began over the weekend, while two large gun shows were due to be staged at fairgrounds nearby.

On Friday, Donald Trump visited survivors and staff at a local hospital. He spoke with a female pupil who had been shot four times and later posted photographs of the meeting on Twitter.

"It's very sad that something like this happened," Mr Trump said.

Asked in a hospital corridor "Mr President, do gun laws need to be changed?", he declined to answer.


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