PARKLAND, Fla. -- The man accused of gunning down 17 people at a Florida high school admitted to law enforcement officials that he carried out one of the nation's deadliest school shootings, authorities said in court papers filed Thursday.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arraigned and charged Thursday with 17 counts of premeditated murder in Wednesday's attack.
Cruz told investigators that he shot students in the hallways and on the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, north of Miami, a report from the Broward County sheriff's office says. Cruz also told investigators that he carried loaded magazines of ammunition to the school and kept them in his backpack until he got on campus, the report says.
Sheriff Scott Israel said the gunman fired into five classrooms -- four on the first floor and one on the second floor. The shooting lasted three minutes.
When he was done shooting, he went to the third floor and dropped his AR-15 rifle and the backpack containing the ammunition, Israel said. He then ran out of the building and attempted to blend in with fleeing students, the sheriff said.
Cruz had taken an Uber ride to the school, so he fled on foot along with those running from the gunfire, according to court filings. An officer found him not long after the shooting walking along a residential street.
After the rampage, the suspect headed to a Walmart store and bought a drink at a Subway restaurant before walking to a McDonald's, the sheriff said. He was taken into custody about 40 minutes after leaving the McDonald's, he said.
A day after the attack, a fuller portrait emerged of the suspect, a loner who had worked at a dollar store, joined the school's ROTC program and posted photos of weapons on Instagram. At least one student said classmates joked that Cruz would "be the one to shoot up the school."
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Photos by The Associated Press
Photos by The Associated Press
Authorities did not publicly announce a motivation for the carnage, but they were digging into elements of Cruz's past, including a pattern of disciplinary issues and unnerving behavior.
FBI investigators were pursuing information suggesting that Cruz was associated with a Florida white supremacist group. But agents were still trying Thursday to determine the extent of his involvement with the group, if any, according to a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing investigation.
The leader of the militia, called the Republic of Florida, said Cruz was a member of his group and had participated in exercises in Tallahassee. Jordan Jereb said he had only a brief interaction with Cruz a few years ago. The group wants Florida to become its own white ethno-state.
Neither the Leon County sheriff's office in Tallahassee nor the Southern Poverty Law Center could confirm any link between Cruz and the militia.
On Thursday night, at least 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil for the slain, some of the mourners sobbing openly as the victims' names were read aloud.
"Each name was like my heart skipped a beat," Bryan Herrera said.
The 17-year-old soccer player said he initially hadn't planned to attend the vigil. "I didn't think I could handle it," he said.
At a brief court hearing, Cruz, wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands cuffed at his waist, was ordered held without bail.
The judge asked him whether he understood his circumstances. "Yes, ma'am," he whispered.
His attorney had her arm around Cruz during the brief appearance. Afterward, she called him a "broken human being."
He was being held under a suicide watch, Executive Chief Public Defender Gordon Weekes said.
As the criminal case began to take shape, President Donald Trump, in an address to the nation, promised to "tackle the difficult issue of mental health," but he avoided any mention of guns. Two federal law enforcement officials said the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223-caliber weapon that Cruz used was purchased legally last year at Sunrise Tactical Gear in Florida.
Trump, who owns a private club in Palm Beach, about 40 miles from Parkland, said he planned to visit the grieving community. He did not answer shouted questions about guns as he left the room Thursday.
Trump, who did not speak publicly immediately after the shooting, weighed in on Twitter early Thursday, calling the suspect "mentally disturbed" and stressing that it was important to "report such instances to authorities, again and again!"
In the case of Cruz, at least one person did report him.
FBI agent Rob Lasky said the FBI investigated a 2017 YouTube comment that read: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." But the agency could not identify the person who made the comment, which was from an account using the name Nikolas Cruz. It was left on a YouTube video of a blogger and bail bondsman from Mississippi named Ben Bennight.
In a Buzzfeed article, Bennight said he called the FBI, and agents arrived to talk with him. They called him again Wednesday.
Officials were also investigating whether authorities missed other warning signs about Cruz's potentially violent nature.
He had been expelled from the school for "disciplinary reasons," according to the sheriff, who said he did not know the specifics.
Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami Herald that Cruz may have been identified as a potential threat before Wednesday's attack. Gard said he believes the school had sent out an email warning teachers that Cruz should not be allowed on campus with a backpack.
Cruz had no criminal history before the shootings, according to state law enforcement records, but his childhood was far from smooth.
He spent much of it in a subdivision called Pine Tree Estates, on a lush, narrow street dotted with tropical plants and the occasional driveway basketball hoop. Cruz and his brother, Zachary, had been adopted, and were raised largely by their mother, Lynda Cruz, especially after their father, Roger Cruz, died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 67. Lynda Cruz died in November, and people who knew Nikolas said he took the loss hard.
Paul Gold, 45, said he lived next door to the Cruzes in 2009 and 2010, and stayed in touch with Lynda Cruz over the years. He said Nikolas Cruz had emotional problems.
"He had trouble controlling his temper. He broke things. He would do that sometimes at our house when he lost his temper. But he was always very apologetic afterwards," Gold said.
Other neighbors said patrol cars were regularly in his mother's driveway.
Helen Pasciolla said Lynda Cruz had called sheriff's deputies to the house numerous times to keep Nikolas Cruz in line. Craig Koblitz, 62, a yacht repairman who lives across the street, said some neighbors had suspected him of burglarizing a nearby house a few years ago.
About six years ago, Koblitz returned to his home to find Cruz scooping the fish from the pond in his front yard. He said the boy did not seem to express much surprise or guilt over being caught stealing.
Meanwhile, students struggled to describe the violence that was the nation's deadliest school attack since a gunman targeted an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., more than five years ago.
Catarina Linden, a 16-year-old sophomore, said she was in an advanced math class Wednesday when the gunfire began.
"He shot the girl next to me," she said, adding that when she finally was able to leave the classroom, the air was foggy with gun smoke. "I stepped on so many shell casings. There were bodies on the ground, and there was blood everywhere."
State Sen. Bill Galvano visited the high school Thursday and was allowed to go to the third floor, where he was shown bullet holes that marked where Cruz had tried to shoot out the windows at point-blank range. But the high-impact glass did not shatter.
Authorities told Galvano that Cruz apparently wanted to shoot out the windows so he could fire on the students running away from the school. Police told Galvano that it was not that difficult to open the windows.
"Thank God he didn't," Galvano said.
Teachers and students were killed in the attack, including a soccer player, a trombonist in the marching band, and a popular football coach who himself had attended the school.
The last of the bodies were removed from the high school Thursday after authorities analyzed the crime scene. Thirteen wounded survivors were still hospitalized, including two in critical condition.
Lori Alhadeff, the mother of one of the victims, Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, said she had a message for Trump.
"President Trump, we need action, we need change," she said, tears streaming down her face. "Get these guns out of the hands of these young kids and get these guns off the streets."
Douglas High has about 3,000 students and serves a suburb where the median home price is nearly $600,000.
Wednesday's shooting was the 17th incident of gunfire at an American school this year. Of the 17 incidents, one involved a suicide, two involved active shooters who killed students, two involved people killed in arguments and three involved people who were shot but survived. Nine involved no injuries at all.
Information for this article was contributed by Terry Spencer, Kelli Kennedy, Tamara Lush, Alina Hartounian, Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson, Joshua Replogle, Sadie Gurman, Mike Balsamo, Bernard McGhee and John Mone of The Associated Press; by Lori Rozsa, Mark Berman, Devlin Barrett, David Nakamura, Brian Murphy, Moriah Balingit, Fred Barbash, William Wan, Jennifer Jenkins, Sarah Larimer, Julie Tate and David Weingrad of The Washington Post; and by Richard Fausset and Serge F. Kovaleski of The New York Times.
This photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz. Authorities say Cruz, a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, killing more than a dozen people and injuring several.
Veronica Laureano and her daughter, Zorayha, 11, attend a vigil Thursday at Parkland Baptist Church in Parkland, Fla., for victims of the shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Photos found on Nikolas Cruz’s Instagram account include a masked selfie (shown) and an array of weapons lying on a bed.
Photos found on Nikolas Cruz’s Instagram account include a masked selfie and an array of weapons lying on a bed (shown).
This undated photo provided by Abbie Youkilis shows her niece, Jaime Guttenberg. Guttenberg was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and was killed when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
This undated photo shows Joaquin Oliver, known by his nickname "Guac." Oliver, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was killed when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
This photo taken from the Facebook page of Shawn Malone Reeder Sherlock shows an undated photo of her niece, Gina Montalto, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Montalto was killed when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
This undated photo made available by Joan Cox shows her nephew Luke Hoyer. Hoyer was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He was killed when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
This undated photo taken from the Facebook page of Claudette McMahon Joshi shows her great niece, Alaina Petty, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Petty was killed when former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
Nikolas Cruz appears by video before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica in Broward County Court on Thursday, where he was arraigned on 17 counts of premeditated murder and ordered held without bail.
President Donald Trump leaves a White House news conference on Thursday after giving a statement on the Parkland, Fla., shooting. Trump, who did not acknowledge questions about guns, said he would visit the city.
A Section on 02/16/2018
Print Headline: School shooting lasted 3 minutes, sheriff states