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Florida school shooter charged with 17 counts of murder

Florida school shooter charged with 17 counts of murder
Florida school shooter charged with 17 counts of murder. picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS/Rmv/I. Witlen
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After hours of questioning by state and federal authorities, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

According to a Broward County Sheriff's Office report, Cruz admitted to interrogating officers that he "began shooting students that he saw in the hallways and on school grounds" on Wednesday.

Authorities have yet to determine a motive.

Police have learned that Cruz trained at least once with the Republic of Florida (ROF) militia, a white supremacist group that seeks to turn Florida into a white ethno-state. Contacted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a US-based non-governmental organization, ROF's leader Jordan Jereb confirmed that Cruz was associated with the group but that he had acted on his own in the shooting and had not been directed to do so by the group.

The FBI has also confirmed that it received a tip about Cruz last September. Agents were contacted by a Mississippi man named Ben Bennight after a user named Nikolas Cruz left a disturbing comment on his YouTube channel. The comment, which read "I'm going to be a professional school shooter," was investigated by the FBI but agents were unable to find any further information as to the time and location of the post.

Threatening behavior

Cruz, who had been expelled from the school last year for "disciplinary reasons" resulting from a fight with his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, was known for his threatening behavior among students and teachers. After his expulsion teachers were reportedly warned not to allow him onto school property with a backpack.

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The shooter had few friends and many fellow students described him as a "loner" and a "weirdo." Authorities say Cruz had been receiving counseling at a local mental health clinic but stopped going to the clinic about a year ago.

Cruz had made repeated threats toward other students, and police are scouring a series of disturbing social media posts in which he posed with a gun and wrote about killing animals.

Cruz is originally from Long Island, New York, and moved to Broward County, Florida, with his parents and his brother. The boys became orphaned after their mother died of pneumonia late last year; their father died of a heart attack several years earlier. The boys had been in the care of a family friend, though Cruz moved in with a friend's family in late November citing unhappiness.

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Gun was locked up

The family, which has not been named, knew that Cruz owned an AR-15 assault rifle and insisted that he keep it locked up, though he himself had a key to the safe.

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On Wednesday afternoon, Cruz — outfitted with a gas mask, smoke grenades and his assault rifle — pulled the fire alarm, sending students pouring out into the hallway at which point he began shooting.

Cruz reportedly told investigators that he had decided to discard the AR-15 and vest during the commotion so as to blend in with the crowd. He was arrested shortly afterward off the school grounds without an incident.

Prayers and condolences

As has become routine in the wake of such shootings, politicians offered prayers and condolences to the victims' families and friends. US President Donald Trump made a point of stressing the shooter's mental health but avoided any mention of guns or gun laws during an address to the nation on Thursday.

The attack was the 290th school shooting in the United States since 2013 and the 18th of 2018. It was the fifth deadliest school shooting to ever be carried out in the country.

cw, js/cmk (AP, Reuters)

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