Authorities on Thursday morning charged 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz with 17 counts of premeditated murder after he was identified as the gunman who carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in modern U.S. history on Wednesday.
Cruz had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Police said he stormed his former school with an AR-15 rifle, which he used to kill 17 people—12 inside the school and three outside it, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. (Two more died of their injuries in local hospitals.) It’s not yet known how many of the people killed were students and how many were teachers.
Shots first rang out at the suburban Florida school shortly before the 2:40 p.m. dismissal time on Wednesday, as Cruz allegedly strolled the hallways of the school, firing at will on students and teachers. Videos taken from inside the school show students huddled under desks in search of shelter as screams and a voice shouting “Oh my god” rang out again and again.
Sarah Crescitelli, a freshman student who was in drama class when the shots started, texted her mother what she thought would be her final message, according to The New York Times: “If I don’t make it, I love you and I appreciate everything you did for me.”
Cruz was able to escape the chaos of students trying to flee the school but was arrested in Coral Springs, a neighboring city a couple miles from the school, about an hour later. He arrived at the school heavily armed with “countless magazines,” Sheriff Israel said. Florida Senator Bill Nelson, citing information he learned from the FBI, emphasized how well-prepared Cruz was for the massacre, saying the gunman “wore a gas mask, had smoke grenades, and he set off the fire alarm so the kids would come out of the classrooms.”
A motive for the attack is not yet known, but Israel noted a football coach was among the dead and the son of a deputy sheriff was injured.
In what has become a darkly predictable part of the contours of mass killings in America, Cruz’s former classmates recalled him as a “troubled” young man who often talked about guns and killing animals, with one classmate telling local station WFOR that Cruz “always had guns on him.” Just as predictably, the AR-15 he used to carry out the attack was legally purchased.
On his social media profiles, Cruz posted explicitly about wanting to shoot people with his rifle and to kill members of law enforcement, and posted numerous photos of himself brandishing rifles and other weapons.
Cruz, who was adopted at birth, had been living with a family friend since around Thanksgiving, after his mother died of pneumonia on Nov. 1. A relative told the Sun-Sentinel that Cruz’s father had died of a heart attack years earlier, and that his mother sought out counseling for him at a young age.
“The family is devastated, they didn’t see this coming. They took him in and it’s a classic case of no good deed goes unpunished,” Jim Lewis, an attorney speaking on the family’s behalf, told the Florida paper. “He was a little quirky and he was depressed about his mom’s death, but who wouldn’t be?”
President Donald Trump has made no public appearances or speeches in connection with the shooting, but he has been tweeting.