PARKLAND (REUTERS) - A 19-year-old gunman returned to the Florida high school where he had once been expelled for disciplinary problems and opened fire with an assault-style rifle on Wednesday (Feb 14), killing at least 17 people and injuring more than a dozen others before he was arrested, the authorities said.
The violence erupted shortly before dismissal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a placid, middle-class community about 70km north of Miami.
Television footage showed images of bewildered students streaming out of the building with hands raised in the air, as dozens of police and emergency services personnel swarmed the area.
A rapid series of loud gunshots is heard amid hysterical screaming and someone yelling: “Oh my God.”
The gunman was arrested later outside, some distance from the school, in an adjacent community.
CNN, citing law enforcement sources, said the gunman tried to blend in with students who were fleeing the school, but was spotted and taken into custody.
He was identified as Nikolas Cruz, who previously attended the high school and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news briefing hours later.
Officials spelled his first name differently earlier in the day before correcting themselves. As a high-school freshman, Cruz was part of the US military-sponsored Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programme at the school, according to Jillian Davis, 19, a recent graduate and former fellow JROTC member at Stoneman Douglas High.
The authorities at two nearby hospitals said they were treating 13 survivors for bullet wounds and other injuries. Five of them were in critical condition, said the authorities.
The Valentine’s Day bloodshed in the Miami suburb of gated communities with palm- and shrub-lined streets was the latest outbreak of gun violence that has become a regular occurrence at schools and college campuses across the United States over the past several years.
It was the 18th shooting in a US school so far this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.
That tally includes suicides and incidents where no one was injured, as well as the January shooting in which a 15-year-old gunman killed two fellow students at a Benton, Kentucky, high school.
Staff and students told local media that a fire alarm went off around the time the shooting started, sparking chaos as some 3,300 students at the school first headed into hallways before teachers herded them back into classrooms to seek shelter in closets.
One survivor, Kyle Yeoward, 16, a junior, told Reuters he and about 15 fellow students and a teacher hid in a closet for nearly two hours before police arrived.
Yeoward said most of the shooting occurred in the building for the school’s freshman class.
Anguished parents checked on their children.
“It is just absolutely horrifying. I can’t believe this is happening,” Lissette Rozenblat, whose daughter goes to the school, told CNN. Her daughter called her to say she was safe, but the student also told her mother she heard the cries of a person who was shot.
The school had recently held a meeting to discuss what to do in such an attack, Ryan Gott, a 15-year-old freshman told CNN.
“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting,” US President Donald Trump said on Twitter. “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”