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Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says there are multiple casualties in a shooting at a high school in South Florida. (Feb. 14)
AP

A former student went on a shooting rampage at a Florida high school Wednesday, leaving 17 dead while panicked students barricaded themselves inside classrooms and frantic parents raced to the scene. 

The gunman, who had been expelled and didn’t graduate, was identified as 19-year-old Nikolaus Cruz. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Cruz was armed with “countless” magazines and an AR-15-style rifle.

Cruz was arrested a short distance from the school near a home, a law enforcement official who is not authorized to comment publicly told USA TODAY. Students recognized the suspect during the assault, he said.

Flanked by officers, the suspect was later escorted into a police station wearing a hospital gown. 

“This is catastrophic,” Israel said. “There are really no words.” 

The shooting happened about 2 p.m. at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which is about 30 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale, according to the Coral Springs Police Department. 

Students said chaos ensued when a fire alarm sounded in the school near dismissal time — then the gunfire started. Israel said Cruz started shooting outside then made his way through the school’s hallways. 

Television footage showed the terrifying moments outside the school. Students ran single file from the building with their hands in the air — throwing backpacks into a large pile and huddling under trees across the street. 

As students scrambled to safety, law enforcers with weapons drawn approached the building.

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The gunman was expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons,” but Israel didn’t elaborate.

Cameras captured authorities taking Cruz into custody and to a local hospital. Police earlier said the gunman was a member of the JROTC program.

Some students and teachers who fled the school told reporters they knew the former student and that he had guns. 

As friends hiding from the shooter sent photos and videos over Snapchat to 19-year-old Jillian Davis, she started to recognize the suspect as a former classmate who had a history of making dark, gun-related jokes. 

Cruz, a classmate who participated in Davis’s ninth grade JROTC group, was usually a quiet kid who kept to himself, but “there was a lot of anger management issues there,” Davis said.

“Finding out it was him makes a lot of sense now,” she said.

Cruz would joke about shooting people or shooting up establishments, she added. At the time, she thought it was normal, violent teenage jokes. Cruz would also talk a lot about having guns and using them in different situations, she said.

Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami Herald he taught the suspect last year, who he said was troubled. 

“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” Gard told the newspaper. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.” 

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said it was a dark day in the county’s history. 

“It’s a horrific situation. It’s just a horrible day for us,” he said. “…This is a day we prayed would never happen in our county.” 

He said every high school in the county has a police presence, adding there are typically two officers at every school. 

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Worried parents crowded around the the school, some asking television crews what they should do to get information on their child, and students cried when they were reunited with their mothers and fathers. Some of the injured were treated on sidewalks and loaded into ambulances.

Twelve of the victims were found inside the school, two were killed outside, and two others died in the hospital. One additional person was killed off the school’s campus, Israel said. 

Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at the school, told CNN she hid with her students in a closet until law enforcement cleared them. Footage on local television stations showed SWAT officers entering a classroom with guns drawn and students shaking and crying as they held up their hands. 

More: Florida school shooting is the 6th to injure students this year

The White House released a statement as the tragedy was unfolding.

“The president has been made aware of the school shooting in Florida,” deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said. “We are monitoring the situation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.”

The incident comes just weeks after a rampage at a rural Kentucky high school. A 15-year-old faces two counts of murder and 12 counts of first-degree assault after police said he killed two and wounded more than a dozen others in a shooting spree at Marshall County High School in Benton.

There have been at least six school shootings in 2018.

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Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY; Emily Bohatch, Treasure Coast Newspapers

 

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