Youth expelled from US school kills 17

19-year-old armed with semi-automatic rifle nabbed an hour after fleeing the scene

A former student at a Florida high school opened fire in the school, causing "numerous fatalities" and wounding at least 14 people before he was arrested by police, authorities said.

PARKLAND (Florida) • A heavily armed young man barged into his former high school in the south-eastern US state of Florida, opening fire on terrified students and teachers, and leaving a death toll of 17 that could rise even higher, the authorities said.

Students huddled in horror in their classrooms, with some of them training their mobile phones on the carnage, capturing sprawled bodies, screams and gunfire that began with a few shots and then continued.

The dead included students and adults, some of whom were shot outside the school and others inside the sprawling three-storey building.

The gunman, armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, was identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, who had been expelled from the school, the authorities said.

He began his shooting rampage outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the suburban neighbourhood shortly before dismissal time at around 2.40pm on Wednesday. He then made his way inside and went down hallways, firing at students and teachers who scurried for cover, said the authorities.

"Oh my god! Oh my god!" one student yelled over and over in one video that circulated on social media, as gunshots boomed.

By the end of the rampage, Cruz had killed 12 people inside the school and three outside it, including someone standing on a street corner, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

People being led out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the shooting on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP

Two more victims died of their injuries in local hospitals.

"This is catastrophic," said Mr Israel, who has three children who graduated from the high school. "There really are no words."

Cruz was arrested in Coral Springs, a neighbouring city a few kilometres from the school, about an hour after fleeing the scene, said the authorities. In addition to the rifle, Mr Israel said Cruz had countless magazines. He said he did not know the gunman's motive.

The sheriff said a football coach was among the dead, and the son of a deputy sheriff among the injured. Twelve of the 17 dead were identified by Wednesday night, he added.

Parents comforting students outside the high school after the attack. Those who died included students and adults, some of whom were shot outside the school and others inside the building. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Rebecca Bogart, 17, said her teacher was finishing up a discussion of the Holocaust when she heard a series of loud bangs. "We all got on the floor and under the desk," said Rebecca, who was still shaking outside the school. "It felt like we were there 10 or 15 minutes, and then shots came through the window and the glass shattered."

She could see at least five classmates bleeding, one in the head and one in the leg. When the authorities arrived, they took out her wounded classmates first. "There was blood all over the floor," she said.

The massacre called to mind the two worst school shootings in the US: Sandy Hook, the Connecticut elementary school where 20 pupils and six adults were shot dead in 2012; and Columbine, the high school outside Denver where 12 students and a teacher were killed in 1999.

More than 40 "active shooter" episodes in schools have been recorded in the United States since 2000, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and news reports. Many schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, run annual drills in which students practise huddling in classrooms behind locked doors.

The latest tragedy is likely to revive a debate on gun control, though efforts to legislate restrictions on firearms following previous school shootings largely proved fruitless.

President Donald Trump said he was briefed on the shooting and 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."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2018, with the headline 'Youth expelled from US school kills 17'. Subscribe