White supremacy group claims Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz as a member

Cruz (centre) appears via video monitor at a bond hearing in court, Feb 15, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARKLAND, Florida (NYTIMES) - The leader of a white supremacist group said on Thursday (Feb 15) that the suspected gunman in one of the deadliest school shootings in modern US history was a member of his group and had participated in paramilitary drills.

Jordan Jereb, the leader of a group called Republic of Florida, told The Associated Press that he didn't know Nikolas Cruz personally and that "he acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he's solely responsible for what he just did".

Cruz, 19, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder - one for each of the people he killed with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday.

Cruz appeared before the judge in Broward County via video conference.

He did not speak.

The shooting, captured on cellphone video by terrified students at the suburban high school about an hour north of Miami, has renewed a national debate on how to prevent more tragedies.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would make school safety a top priority when he meets with the nation's governors next month.

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He also said he planned a visit to the grieving Parkland community.

"We are here for you - whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain," Trump said in an address to the nation.

The FBI on Thursday said it received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel that has been attributed to the gunman, but was unable to identify the person.

Governor Rick Scott of Florida said he would meet with state lawmakers to secure more funding for school safety and the treatment of mental illness.

"If we have somebody that's mentally ill, they can't have access to a gun," Scott said.

Authorities said the AR-15 rifle that Cruz used in the attack was purchased legally.

"No laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon," said Peter J. Forcelli, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami.

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