Accused gunman confessed to Florida high school shooting, police say
The 19-year-old accused of gunning down 17 people at his former school on Wednesday told police he carried out the rampage, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Nikolas Cruz confessed to law enforcement that he was the gunman who entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 and opened fire on students in the hallway and on school grounds, the document states.
Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday in the deaths of students and staff as questions began to emerge about his mental health and possible warning signs he left on social media.
• The shooter’s former neighbor said Cruz pointed a BB gun at homes and did target practice in the neighborhood.
• Cruz had an Instagram account with posts that include photos of a rifle and a collection of firearms on a bed.
• The shooter legally purchased the firearm used in the shooting at a gun store in Coral Springs, Florida.
What his digital footprint suggests
On social media, Cruz made clear his desire to perpetrate the exact type of violence of which he now stands accused.
He hurled slurs at blacks and Muslims, and according to the Anti-Defamation League, had ties to white supremacists. He said he would shoot people with his AR-15 and singled out police and anti-fascist protesters as deserving of his vengeance.
Under videos on YouTube and other sites, posts by someone using the name Nikolas Cruz included threatening comments such as, “I whana shoot people with my AR-15” (sic), “I wanna die Fighting killing s**t ton of people” and “I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people.”
On an Instagram account under the name @Nikolascruzmakarov, his profile picture shows him with a mask around his face, wearing a Make America Great Again hat. Other posts include a photo of a rifle, a collection of firearms on a bed, and a shot through a scope looking out a window.
A video blogger said he warned the FBI in September about a possible school shooting threat from a YouTube user with the same name as Cruz. An FBI agent confirmed that a field officer in Jackson, Mississippi, received the tip and interviewed the person who shared it. But no additional information was found to help identify the person who posted the comment and no connection was made to south Florida, said FBI special agent in charge of the Miami division, Robert Lasky.
A former neighbor said Cruz pointed a BB gun at homes and did target practice in the neighborhood. In video the former neighbor shared with CNN, Cruz is on a back patio, wearing only boxers and a red baseball cap, brandishing a pistol that appears to be a type of BB gun called an air soft pistol.
An ’emotionally broken’ young man
Cruz is being held without bond after a brief hearing Thursday in Broward County court. Appearing by video from jail, he said nothing except to confirm his name. He nodded when he was told he couldn’t post bail.
His lawyer described him as a “deeply disturbed, emotionally broken” young man who has struggled with significant mental illness and trauma his entire life. Public defender Gordon Weekes said his client is on suicide watch.
“He’s gone through a lot in a very short period of time and that does not minimize the loss of those families, but we have to put that into the proper light,” Weekes said, choking back tears in a crowd of reporters.
“He has some very difficult decisions to make shortly and we’re going to assist him with those decisions.”
Authorities say Cruz activated a fire alarm, sending people outside unaware of what was to come. At first, students were confused about the fire alarm because there had been a fire drill earlier that day.
He roamed the halls, allegedly targeting those huddled in classrooms and then blending in with the students and staff evacuating the school.
Some texted goodbyes to loved ones, fearful they wouldn’t make it out alive. Others posted social media images of chairs overturned in classrooms and floors stained with blood.
In one cellphone video, a student cried, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” as gunshots popped in rapid succession in the background.
Survivors described hearing anguished cries of the wounded. Kelsey Friend, a freshman, said she heard her teacher being shot dead in the doorway of their classroom while she and classmates hid near the teacher’s desk.
Moments earlier, they had left the room for the fire alarm, but returned after hearing gunshots. The teacher unlocked the door, allowing students to get back in, she said.
“I had ran in, thinking (the teacher) was behind me, but he was not. … I heard the gunshots, and I heard the shooter walk down the hallway.
“When we were all piled up by the desk … my friend said, ‘(The teacher) is not moving. He is laying in the doorway.'”
Until that moment, she’d hoped it was an active-shooter drill, with police officers firing blanks, “until I saw my teacher dead on the floor.”
By the end of the rampage, 12 people were killed inside the building, two outside and one on the street. Two others shot at the school died at the hospital, the sheriff said.
Investigators identified Cruz from school security videos and arrested him in the neighboring community of Coral Springs later in the day, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said.
Relatives and others have been identifying some of the 17 students and adults who died.
The school’s assistant football coach, Aaron Feis, and athletic director Chris Hixon were among the dead, according to the Stoneman Douglas football program and its spokeswoman, Denise Lehtio.
Feis threw himself in front of students as bullets flew Wednesday at his alma mater. It would become the final act of the coach and security guard, who suffered a gunshot wound and later died after he was rushed into surgery.
“He died the same way he lived — he put himself second,” Lehtio said. “He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero.”
Hixon gave his life “for our kids and probably helped prevent this from being a worse tragedy,” Runcie, the superintendent, said.
Suspect was staying with acquaintance’s family
Cruz had been expelled from the high school over disciplinary problems, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said, without providing specifics.
The suspect used a .223 caliber, AR-15 style firearm in the shooting that he bought in the past year after passing a background check, a source told CNN’s Evan Perez.
Cruz was adopted, and his adoptive mother died in November. The family of someone he’d met at the high school allowed him to stay at their home, said Jim Lewis, the attorney for that family.
That family knew he had a gun, but “they had it locked up, and believed that that was going to be sufficient, that there wasn’t going to be a problem,” Lewis said.
Asked if the family had seen troubling signs, Lewis said they “saw some depression” over his adoptive mother’s death.
“Obviously, he’d lost his mom. But they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store. They got him going to an adult education so he could try to get his GED and he seemed to be doing better,” Lewis said.
CNN asked Lewis on Thursday whether the host family knew of any mental illness beyond depression.
“They didn’t see that. They didn’t see a mentally ill person, or they wouldn’t have let him live under their (roof),” Lewis said.
“Nobody saw this kind of aggression or motive in this kid, that he would do anything like this,” he said.
Kathie Blaine, a cousin of Cruz’s adoptive mother, said he was adopted and she had never met him.
The adoptive mother — her cousin Lynda Cruz — died in November of pneumonia, while his adoptive father passed away years ago, according to Blaine.