(TNS) - An American nightmare unfolded Wednesday afternoon at a North Broward high school when a former student came onto campus and opened fire, killing and injuring multiple people.
Details remain cloudy amid a flurry of police activity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland off the Sawgrass Expressway. Students, who heard a fire alarm go off just before dismissal, followed by guns shots, fled off campus and hid under desks as police sped to the scene. Parents, blocked from getting onto campus, stood by helpless.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office is reporting “at least 14 victims.”
The shooter, a former student identified by law enforcement sources as Nicolas de Jesus Cruz, managed to make it off campus. He was cornered and taken into custody in a townhouse at Pelican Pointe at Wyndham Lakes in Coral Springs.
Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward Schools, is reporting “numerous fatalities” in the terrifying attack, the latest in America’s troubled history with guns. Many victims have been transported to Broward Health North, as has Cruz. Four others have been taken to Broward Medical Center.
“It’s a day that you pray every day when you get up that you will never have to see. It is in front of us. I ask the community for prayers and their support for the children and their families,” Runcie, appearing at a media staging area near the school, told WSVN Channel 7. “We received no warning … Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”
A teacher at the school, however, told The Miami Herald that Cruz, 19, had been identified as a potential threat to fellow students in the past. Gard says he believes the school administration had sent out an email warning teachers that the student had made threats against others in the past and that he should not be allowed on the campus with a backpack. Another student interviewed on the scene by Channel 7 said the student had guns at home.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said math teacher Jim Gard, who said the former student suspected in the shootings had been in his class last year. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
A Broward schools spokesperson could not confirm any information about the shooter, and said Runcie was currently meeting with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
The shooting began just before dismissal, after someone pulled the fire alarm. Students and teachers were puzzled because the school had already held a fire drill that day.
Then a code red, school lingo for a lockdown, was read over the loud speaker.
“Six kids ran back into my room, and I locked the door, turned out the lights and had the kids go to the back of the room,” Gard said. “I told the kids to hang in there, it may still be a drill.”
On the first floor, freshman Geovanni Vilsant, 15, said he was in a Spanish classroom when a fire alarm went off, urging all the students out of their classrooms. Then, two minutes later, gun shots rang out enveloping the three-floor building in explosions.
Geovanni Vilsant said he saw three bloody bodies on the floor as he was fleeing the school.
“There was blood everywhere,” he said. “They weren’t moving.”
His older brother, who jumped a fence and sought refuge in a nearby neighborhood, ran back around to try to find his brother.
“I had to go back for him,” Bradley Vilsant said from a nearby Wal-Mart where the brothers fled with about 100 other students.
Most of the students remained calm. One high school senior elsewhere at the school told The Miami Herald that there were “SWAT teams everywhere with big guns, cops everywhere, helicopters.” She said parents trying to reach their children have been unable to make it to the school because the streets are closed off.
But by 2:40, Gard says, they knew it wasn’t a drill. Elsewhere, bullets flew. Miami Herald news partner CBS-WFOR, citing law enforcement sources, is reporting that as many as seven have been killed. Margate’s Fire Chief, whose department responded immediately to the scene, told The Miami Herald that more than 20 were injured.
Initially, the Coral Springs Police Department urged teachers and students to remain barricaded inside until police reach them. Students posted pictures to social media taken from under their desks.
Police, who flooded the school, began clearing buildings one at a time. Students streamed out in a line with their hands up. Others frantically ran, book bags strapped to their backs. The evacuation started under the direction of police officers, and the students were guided to nearby parking lots by officers as well.
Police have remained tight with information. Law enforcement and the district’s Special Investigative Unit are on site, as is the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Federal authorities said they don’t believe the high school shootings are related to terrorism.
The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, consisting of local, state and federal agents, sent a squad to the school to assist the Broward Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement.
“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting,” President Donald Trump tweeted. “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
Worried parents trying to find their children stood by helpless. Authorities have designated pick up for students at North Heron Bay Marriott, South at Betty Stradling Park. Many students were being cleared by police and teachers by a Walmart near the school.
Parents stood about a mile away as police blocked them from getting closer to their children. Many spoke on their cellphones trying to calm their children down.
Denise Perez paced as she spoke to her daughter Marsiel Baluja. Her daughter told her that she was sitting between Publix and Wal-Mart with a bunch of other students. They were surrounded by armed marshals.
“Just stay calm, baby,” she said.
Perez just wanted to get closer to her daughter.
“This is really hard,” she said as she cried.
Victoria Olvera, 17, a junior, was able to walk out after getting clearance by police officers. She said she was in history when she heard shots.
“Everyone started running,” she said.
(Miami Herald reporters Douglas Hanks, Alex Harris, Chabeli Herrera, Nicholas Nehamas, Charles Rabin, Carli Teproff, Martin Vassolo and Jay Weaver contributed to this report. Washington correspondent Alex Daugherty contributed as well.)
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