A former student at a Florida high school returned to his campus with deadly intent on Wednesday, reportedly donning a gas mask and killing at least 17 people with an AR-15 assault rifle.
Pupils at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, hid under desks and cowered in cupboards as the gunfire rang out.
The alleged suspect, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz had previously attended the high school and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
He managed to make it off campus before he was cornered and taken into custody in a townhouse at the Pelican Pointe gated community, in the Wyndham Lakes estate.
Jim Gard, a maths teacher at the school, said that the teachers had reportedly been warned about Cruz. Another student interviewed on the scene by Channel 7 said the student had guns at home.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said Mr Gard, who added that the former student had been in his class last year. “There were problems with him last year threatening students”
Authorities at two nearby hospitals said they were treating 13 survivors for bullet wounds and other injuries, five of whom were listed in critical condition.
Broward County Mayor Beam Furr told CNN the shooter was getting treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but that he hadn’t been back to the clinic for more than a year.
One pupil said other teenagers had long thought the suspect would “shoot up the school”.
The pupil told local television station WFOR-TV: “A lot of people were saying it was going to be him. A lot of kids threw jokes around saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. It turns out that everyone predicted it. That’s crazy.”
The Valentine’s Day bloodshed began after the assailant, wearing a gas mask, stalked into the school carrying a rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, said Senator Bill Nelson, who had been briefed by federal law enforcement officials.
He then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from their classrooms into hallways. “There the carnage began,” Senator Bill Nelson told CNN.
On the first floor, Geovanni Vilsant, 15, said he was in a Spanish classroom when a fire alarm went off, urging all the students out of their classrooms.
Then, two minutes later, gun shots rang out and he fled, catching sight of three bloody bodies on the floor as he was fleeing the school. “There was blood everywhere,” he said. “They weren’t moving.” His elder brother, Bradley, who jumped a fence and sought refuge in a nearby neighbourhood, went back and found him.
A football coach at the Florida high school where a gunman killed at least 17 people is being hailed a hero after reportedly throwing himself in front of students to protect them.
Aaron Feis was taken to hospital in critical condition after the alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County on Wednesday afternoon.
The coach, who also worked as a security guard at the school for at least eight years, was initially said to be fighting for his life. However, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel later announced that “a beloved football coach is dead,” without naming the coach.
“This is one of the genuinely greatest people to walk this earth. jumped in front of the bullets to save some students lives… unbelievable,” Mike Schmidt wrote on Twitter.
“Coaches are always protectors. Today he sacrificed his body for his students. Some heroes wear Gatorade towels over their shoulders,” Anthony DiCicco tweeted.
One former student paid tribute to the coach, posting a picture of him with the caption: “This, ladies and gentlemen, if the face of a hero.”
Andrew Hofmann, a former student who recently coached the swimming and water polo teams, said Mr Feis took his security guard role very seriously.
“He’s very well dedicated to the safety of the school during the daytime,” Hofmann told the Miami Herald.
Hofmann described the coach as “a quiet person” with a good sense of humour. “When there’s a funny joke, he is always laughing for sure,” he said.
Feis graduated from Stoneman Douglas High in 1999 and worked at the school for his entire coaching career, according to the school’s website
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said investigators were dissecting the suspect’s social media posts. “And some of the things that have come to mind are very, very disturbing,” he added without elaborating.
The shooting sent students and staff streaming out of the school. Some walked calmly with their hands up while others ran. According to a law enforcement source, the suspect initially mixed in with the crowd of students to try to get away, but it didn’t work.
Immediately after the shooting, aerial footage from CNN affiliate WSVN showed people lying on the ground outside the school, being treated for injuries and moved to ambulances. Seventeen people, including the suspect, were sent to area hospitals, said Dr. Evan Boyar of Broward Health.
As news of the shooting spread, desperate parents gathered near the property, searching for their children at the nearby Walmart where the students and staff gathered after being evacuated.
Those who died included students and adults, the sheriff said. Twelve were killed inside the building and two died outside, he said. One died in the street and two died at the hospital, Israel said.
As it happened after every mass shooting, the atrocity spurred calls for gun control, with lawmakers calling on Donald Trump to “do something” about gun violence.
The president didn’t face the media after the attack, but tweeted his condolences on Twitter.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered government flags flown at half-staff through Monday in honor of victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a public school of some 3,000 students outside Boca Raton.
The school is closed for the rest of the week, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said. The district will offer grief counselling to students and their families.
Bill Bratton, the former chief of New York City police department, said the frequency of school shootings was “astonishing” – but that it had become “the new normal”.
The death toll would make it the third-worst school shooting in recent US history after the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook attacks. It is the 18th school shooting this year, according to campaign group Every Town for Gun Safety.
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