Accused gunman to face 17 murder counts for Florida high school attack

By Sara Shayanian  |  Feb. 15, 2018

(UPI) — The 19-year-old man accused of shooting 17 people dead at a South Florida high school will face numerous counts of premeditated murder at his initial court appearance Thursday.

Nikolas Cruz was transferred to a Broward County Jail early Thursday after spending the night at the sheriff’s office headquarters, authorities said. He is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Officials said Cruz was taken to a Deerfield Beach hospital following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday afternoon, after exhibiting “labored breathing” in the aftermath of the attack. It was the deadliest school shooting in the United States since 26 children and adults died at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Seventeen victims were taken to Broward Health Coral Springs, Broward Health North, Broward Health Medical Center and Boca West Medical Center after the shooting, the sheriff’s office said in a statement. Fifteen died at the school, and two at the hospital.

“Let us find the courage to transcend fear, greed, hatred & divisions and collaborate to achieve a new level of consciousness to find real solutions that include investments in mental health services for our youth and common sense gun control for this nation,” Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Twitter on Thursday.

Cruz was set to appear in Broward County court Thursday afternoon. The hearing will be livestreamed by the Sun Sentinel.

Students have described the chaos of the attack, saying the shooter walked the halls of the high school just before the end of classes Wednesday, carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, after a fire alarm was activated. He wore a gas mask and lobbed smoke grenades as he went through the building, witnesses and officials said.

Freshman Jason Menchaca told UPI he had tunnel vision running past the dead on the floor of his school as he escaped.

“It was just a normal good day so far and school was about to let out and I heard two shots, so we ran to the corner of the room and the fire alarm goes off right after that,” Menchaca said. “I heard shot after shot, people screaming and running. I was scared for my life sitting in the corner praying for my life.”

He said it took 45 minutes for authorities to free the students from the classroom — shouting at them to run out as fast as they could.

“It was a terrible scene,” Menchaca added. “I had none of my belongings so I just ran hoping that I could find my family.”

Other students said they took cover beneath desks, hiding in closets for hours and barricading classroom doors to deter the shooter from entering.

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 “The people next door to us must have not locked their door,” 14-year-old Hannah Siren said.

Seventeen people died in the shooting, but the toll could rise. More than a dozen others were injured.

“I’m absolutely sick to my stomach to see children who go to school with backpacks and pencils lose their lives,” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. “We will not be releasing the names of any victims until every family and every parent is notified accordingly.”

Thursday, President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation to honor the victims — ordering all flags at the White House, public buildings nationwide and U.S. military installations around the world to be flown at half-staff.

Trump ordered the flags to remain at half-staff until sunset Monday.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement Wednesday the state government would pay for funeral expenses for all of the victims and therapy for students and families.

Officials said classes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be canceled for the remainder of the week, including all school activities.