The gunman accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school Wednesday had previously attended the school, where he was known as a “weird kid” and “loner” who was expelled for getting into a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new beau, a current student said.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, arrived at Broward County Jail early Thursday morning after federal and local investigators questioned him for several hours. He was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz was taken into custody “without incident” Wednesday by Coconut Creek police in a Coral Springs neighborhood just a few miles from the high school itself.
“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” Joshua Charo, 16, a former classmate, told the Miami Herald. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”
Police said Cruz, who was identified as the only possible gunman, had been taken to the hospital for a period of time after his arrest because he “exhibited labored breathing.”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said in a Thursday morning news conference the families of the 17 people killed were notified and the names of the victims will be released later in the day.
“Today is a day of healing. Today is a day of mourning,” Israel said.
Aaron Feis, a beloved football coach at the high school, was the first victim identified. The school’s football team tweeted Feis “shielded students from the shooter” when he was struck with a bullet.
“He was our Assistant Football Coach and security guard. He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories,” the tweet said.
Another 15 people were taken to the hospital. At least five people remain hospitalized as of Thursday. Two are in critical condition, hospital officials said.
The motive behind the massacre was not immediately clear. Israel said the FBI is focused on the “successful prosecution of this killer.”
Lawmakers and officials suggested the shooting may have been planned. Cruz is also expected to make his first court appearance at 2 p.m.
“Everyone was kind of just standing there calm, and then we saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint.”
Students at the high school in Parkland reportedly thought they were having another fire drill when they heard shots fired. Cruz — equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple magazines of ammunition — came on the campus during school dismissal and fired his AR-15 rifle as students and faculty barricaded themselves in classrooms, officials said.
Other people ran into the streets as they heard “pop, pop, pop” in the background.
Israel said Thursday that there was an armed school resource deputy on campus at the time of the shooting, but never encountered Cruz.
Noah Parness, 17, told the Associated Press the fire alarm went off for the second time in the day at around 2:30 p.m. Parness said students were calmly filing out of the school when he suddenly heard several gunshots.
“Everyone was kind of just standing there calm, and then we saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint,” Parness said. “I hopped a fence.”
An unidentified student described the gruesome scene in an interview with Fox News.
“The police came through the hallway to get us and in the hallway, I saw a big pile of blood, like, kind of smeared as if they were dragged away, and I saw two girls probably dead in the hallway,” she said. “And then, coming down the stairs, there was some more blood and outside the building there was another guy – I think it was a teacher – who was, [I’m] pretty sure was dead.”
Cruz later concealed himself in the crowd of students and teachers running out of the high school, authorities said. He was soon taken into custody without a fight.
“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” Broward County Sheriff Scoot Israel said in a news conference Wednesday evening.
Details about Cruz’s troubled past began to emerge in the hours after the massacre. His classmates described him as a “loner” and “that weird kid that you see at school.” Cruz’s adoptive mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia on Nov. 1, family and friends told the Sun Sentinel. Cruz’s adoptive father also died of a heart attack years ago.
Cruz had been expelled from the high school. 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. Olvera said he had been abusive to his girlfriend.
Cruz was also described as having an “obsessive interest in weapons,” according to the Miami Herald. One teacher said Cruz was banned from entering campus with a backpack, the newspaper reported.
An Instagram page apparently belonging to Cruz showed pictures of guns and knives. Israel said some of Cruz’s social media posts were “very, very disturbing.”
President Trump tweeted on Thursday about the alleged gunman: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be closed on Thursday and Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.