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US: 19-year-old ex-student kills 17 in shooting spree at Florida high school

The violence erupted shortly before dismissal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a placid, middle-class community about 72km north of Miami. Television footage showed students streaming out of the building, many with hands raised in the air, as dozens of police and emergency services personnel swarmed the area.

world Updated: Feb 15, 2018 23:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Florida school shooting,Florida shooting,Florida high school shooting
Waiting for word from students, anxious family members gather at Coral Springs Drive and the Sawgrass Expressway, just south of the campus, following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.(AP Photo)

A lone gunman on Wednesday opened fire at a high school in the US state of Florida, killing at least 17 people and injuring a further 15.

The shooting took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland city, Broward County, at around 2:30 pm, minutes before school was to end. The assailant was identified as 19-year-old Nikolaus Cruz, a former student of the school who had been expelled a year ago for “disciplinary problems”.

Investigators said Cruz was carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines. There was no word yet on what motivated him to carry out the deadly shooting. He has been charged with 17 counts of murder.

The firearm in question has a bloody past — it has been used in several mass shootings across the US.

“This is catastrophic,” said Sheriff Scott Israel, whose three children graduated from the same school. “There really are no words.”

Read:For gun control, Trump must focus on socio-economic challenges of poor Whites

Witnesses and local leaders briefed by investigators indicated the assailant had planned the shooting meticulously with the intention to maximize casualties — he came wearing a gas mask and was carrying smoke grenades. He then set off a fire alarm to draw students into the school’s hallway as he waited for them at the entrance.

“People were halfway down the stairwell, it just stopped, the alarm stopped... And we heard gunshots coming from the first floor, the second floor and people were running upstairs,” a student identified as Alex told a CNN affiliate station.

“As (my teacher) was closing the door he was actually shot and killed right there. The door was left open the whole time so as (the shooter) walked by, the door was open. He could have walked in at any time. “

Most of Cruz’s victims were shot inside the school building. He was apprehended without incident after an hour, and is said to be cooperating with investigators.

Rescue workers prepare to transport a victim on a stretcher near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a shooting incident in Parkland, Florida, US. ( Reuters )

Robert Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County schools, told reporters: “We received no warning. Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”

But a teacher of the school told the Miami Herald that Cruz had been identified as a potential threat to fellow students in the past and that school authorities had sent out an email warning teachers of the assailant’s threats to other teenagers.

The massacre was the 30th mass shooting — a gun violence related incident with four or more victims — in 2018, according to gun violence trackers. And as happens after any major shooting in the US, gun rights and easy access to firearms will be fiercely debated by politicians, pundits and the media over the next few days

President Donald Trump — a supporter of gun rights — on Wednesday tweeted: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”

On Thursday, he tweeted, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again! (sic)”

In an address to the nation later that day, he said he will discuss the issue of safety at schools and mental health at an upcoming annual meeting with state governors.

First Published: Feb 15, 2018 07:08 IST