PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – A 19-year-old gunman returned to a Florida high school where he had once been expelled for disciplinary reasons and opened fire with an assault-style rifle on Wednesday, killing 17 people before he was arrested by police, authorities said.
The violence erupted shortly before dismissal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, about 45 miles (72 km) north of Miami. Live television footage showed students streaming out of the building as dozens of police and emergency services personnel swarmed the area.
The gunman was identified as Nikolaus Cruz, who previously attended the school and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news briefing hours later. Officially initially misspelled the suspect’s first name as Nikolas but later corrected it.
“It’s a horrific situation,” Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters separately.
The gunman surrendered to police without a struggle, Israel said. Investigators believe he was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple magazines of ammunition, according to the sheriff.
“It’s catastrophic,” Israel said. “There really are no words.”
Twelve of the dead were killed inside the school, two others just outside, one more on the street and two other victims died of their injuries at a hospital, Israel said. He said the victims comprised a mixture of students and adults.
The Valentine’s Day bloodshed in the Miami suburb of gated communities with palm- and shrub-lined streets was the latest outbreak of gun violence that has become a regular occurrence at schools and college campuses across the United States over the past several years.
It was the 18th shooting in a U.S. school so far this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. That tally includes suicides and incidents when no one was injured, as well as the January shooting in which a 15-year-old gunman killed two fellow students at a Benton, Kentucky, high school.
SCENES OF FEAR
Staff and students told local media that a fire alarm went off around the time the shooting started, sparking chaos as some 3,300 students at the school first headed into hallways before teachers herded them back into classrooms, to seek shelter in closets.
Kyle Yeoward, a 16-year-old junior, told Reuters he was in the bathroom on the second floor of a building when he heard two shots.
“He let loose on the freshman building,” Yeoward said.
CBS News posted a brief clip of cell phone video footage the network said was taken from inside a classroom, showing what appeared to be several students. A rapid series of loud gunshots are heard amid hysterical screaming and someone yelling, “Oh my God.”
McKenzie Hartley, 19, who identified herself as the sister of a student at the school described the scene in a text message to Reuters: “She heard him shooting through the windows of classrooms and two students were shot.”
Anguished parents checked on their children.
“It is just absolutely horrifying. I can’t believe this is happening,” Lissette Rozenblat, whose daughter goes to the school, told CNN. Her daughter called her to say she was safe but the student also told her mother she heard the cries of a person who was shot.
Televised images showed dozens of students, their arms in the air, weaving their way between law enforcement officers with heavy weapons and helmets, and large numbers of emergency vehicles including police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.
The school had recently held a meeting to discuss what to do in such an attack, Ryan Gott, a 15-year-old freshman told CNN.
“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting,” U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter. “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Letitia Stein in Detroit and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker