Nikolas Cruz, an orphaned 19-year-old, responsible for the mass killing in a Florida school on Wednesday, was charged this morning with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
The accused, still wearing a hospital gown after being treated for laboured breathing, and weighing in at 5-foot-7 and 131 pounds, was ordered held without bond and booked into jail.
Cruz, who possesses AR-15 rifle, has had a troubled past, perhaps worsened by his expulsion from the school he went to attack.
His arraignment today followed his being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.
Fourteen wounded survivors were hospitalized as bodies were recovered from inside and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Cruz’s former classmates thought they were having another drill Wednesday afternoon when a fire alarm sounded, requiring them to file out of their classrooms.
That’s when police said Cruz, equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple magazines of ammunition, opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, killing 17 people and sending hundreds of students fleeing into the streets.
It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago. The overall death toll differs by how such shootings are defined, but Everytown For Gun Safety has tallied 290 school shootings in America since 2013, and this attack makes 18 so far this year.
Cruz purchased the AR-15 legally about a year ago, a law enforcement official who is familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press.
The official, not authorised to discuss this publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity. Federal law allows people 18 and older to legally purchase long guns, including this kind of assault weapon.
President Donald Trump’s reaction focused on Cruz’s mental health.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behaviour. Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” Trump tweeted Thursday.
Authorities offered no immediate details about a possible motive, except to say that Cruz had been kicked out of the high school, which has about 3,000 students. Students who knew him described a volatile teenager whose strange behaviour had caused others to end friendships with him.
Cruz’s mother Lynda Cruz died of pneumonia on Nov. 1 neighbours, friends and family members said, according to the Sun Sentinel. Cruz and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Nikolas and his biological brother, Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island in New York to Broward County.
The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, said family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island.
Unhappy there, Cruz asked to move in with a friend’s family in northwest Broward. That family agreed and Cruz moved in around Thanksgiving. According to the family’s lawyer, who did not identify them, they knew that Cruz owned the AR-15 but made him keep it locked up in a cabinet. He did have the key, however.
Attorney Jim Lewis said the family is devastated and didn’t see this coming. They are cooperating with authorities, he said.
Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was expelled last school year because he got into a fight with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. She said he had been abusive to the girl.
“I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him,” said Dakota Mutchler, also 17.
Cruz was taken into custody without a fight about an hour after the shooting in a residential neighbourhood about a mile away. He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.
“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
The sheriff said 12 bodies were found inside the building, two others outside and another a short distance away from the school.
Sen. Bill Nelson told CNN that Cruz had pulled the fire alarm “so the kids would come pouring out of the classrooms into the hall.”
“And there the carnage began,” said Nelson, who said he was briefed by the FBI.