Police: Parkland shooting gunman has confessed

Feb 15, 2018
People kneel on the stage where flowers and 17 angels stand before a memorial service Thursday for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

He took an Uber to his former high school, arriving at 2:19 p.m. on Valentine’s Day.

In a duffel bag, the teenager accused in Florida’s deadliest school shooting carried an AR-15 style rifle he had purchased legally a year earlier at Sunrise Tactical Supply, authorities said.

As 17 former classmates and teachers lay dead or dying, Nikolas Cruz, 19, put down his rifle in a third-floor stairwell at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and walked away. He “blended in with fleeing students,” a booking report said.

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He bought a drink at a nearby Subway at 2:50 p.m. He stopped by McDonald’s shortly after 3 p.m.

What Gov. Rick Scott called an act of “absolute pure evil” came bracketed by the chilling banality of a teenager’s retail purchases.

Cruz confessed to being the shooter after police tracked him down at 3:41 p.m. in nearby Coral Springs, a booking report showed.

He made his first appearance in court Thursday on 17 counts of premeditated murder. He is being held without bail and is on suicide watch.

Cruz’s journey in the months before the shooting took him to Palm Beach County. He lived in a mobile home west of Lantana for a couple of weeks last year before moving in with a family in Broward County, that family’s attorney Jim Lewis told The Palm Beach Post. Investigators have been searching the home.

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Cruz bought the AR-15 at a gun shop in Broward County in February 2017, officials said.

The National Rifle Association has called the AR-15 “America’s most popular rifle.”

At least two Palm Beach County gun shops told The Post that federal firearms agents visited them Thursday, asking about Cruz. They said they had no dealings with the accused shooter, nor did a third gun shop that reported Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents did not visit.

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More than 2,000 people have been interviewed in the investigation, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said.

“This is a fluid investigation,” Israel said.

Agonizing details emerged. After Cruz arrived at the school, a witness radioed to a co-worker about seeing the former student walk on campus wearing a backpack and carrying a duffel bag, according to an arrest report released Thursday afternoon.

According to the report, the witness, whose name and title are redacted, said when he saw Cruz walk on campus he recognized him as “a former troubled student.” He said he radioed to the coworker to let them know Cruz was “walking purposefully toward” a building in the school.

But events moved quickly. Cruz entered the east stairwell of the school’s Building 12 at 2:21 p.m., took out the rifle in 12 seconds, and began shooting three seconds later, authorities said.

The witness told deputies he heard gunshots and called out a “Code Red” alert, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office report said.

As victims screamed, students hid or fled. Cruz left Building 12 at 2:28 and ran toward tennis courts on the campus. He crossed a field and arrived at the Subway shop. He bought a drink.

He went to McDonald’s after 3 p.m. and waited for a short while. Then he set off again on foot.

About 40 minutes later, Cruz was arrested in a nearby neighborhood.

After he was read his rights, Cruz “stated he was the gunman who who entered the school campus armed with an AR-15 and began shooting students he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds,” the arrest report said.

Authorities said Cruz was living with a family on the 7200 block of Loxahatchee Road in Parkland after both of his parents died. The family said Cruz had lived at the home for the last few months.

“You are charged with some very serious crimes,” Judge Kim Theresa Mollica told him at Thursday’s hearing.

Cruz’s lawyer, assistant public defender Melissa McNeill, stood next to him with her hand on his shoulder. She invoked Cruz’s right to remain silent.

In an emotional news conference outside the courtroom, McNeill said that Cruz is “deeply sad” and that the death of his mother was the breaking point.

“He is a broken human being,” McNeill said. “He is a broken child.”

The family with whom Cruz was living has a 17-year-old son who is a junior at the high school and was at the campus during the shooting, officials said.

“The family took him in,” the family’s attorney Lewis said. “They knew his mom had died. They got him a job at Dollar Tree. And they helped him continue his education. They’re totally shocked.”

A GoFundMe account has been created to help the shooting victims and their families.

As of 9 p.m., the Stoneman Douglas Fund had raised more than $550,000. The fund was created by the Broward County Education Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising money for Broward County’s public schools.

Among the first confirmed dead was a beloved football coach, who’d reportedly placed himself between a gunman and the students he swore to protect. There was an 18-year-old with plans to go to Lynn University, whose father called her cellphone hoping for an answer. There was a girl who loved to dance and pose with her dog.

There were at least nine other victims in hospitals in Broward County. At least three of those victims were in critical condition.

In September, the FBI was warned about an eerie comment on a YouTube channel from a user named Nikolas Cruz: “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.’’

Robert Lasky, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami office, confirmed on Thursday that the agency had looked into the “professional shooter” comment but could not uncover any details from the account.

“No other information was included in the comment, which would indicate a time, location, or true identity of the person who made the comment,” Lasky told reporters. “The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, but was unable to further identify the person who made the comment.”

The Associated Press reported that the leader of a white nationalist group has confirmed Cruz was a member of his organization.

In Palm Beach County schools, attendance was down Thursday and police presence was enhanced, particularly in district’s southernmost schools, school officials said.

In the wake of the Broward shooting, district administrators tapped the Boca Raton and other local police departments to provide additional security on campuses in the region and said they planned to speed repairs and enhancements related to security.

Individuals with information are encouraged to call the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI.

In a five-minute address to the nation on Thursday morning, President Donald Trump vowed to focus on mental health issues following the high school massacre.

Trump made no mention of gun control but committed to “tackling the difficult issue of mental health” during a conference with governors later this month.

Trump, who has plans to visit Palm Beach this weekend, said he would meet with family and officials in Parkland, but did not say when he would do so.

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott said he planned to meet with state lawmakers next week to talk about the shooting.

He said he would focus on two things: keeping children safe at school and preventing people with mental illness from touching a gun.

“The violence has to stop,” Scott said. “We cannot lose another child in this country to violence in schools.”

Staff writers Jennifer Sorentrue, Eliot Kleinberg, Alexandra Seltzer, Joe Capozzi, Jeff Ostrowski, Sonja Isger and Sandra Nortunen contributed to this report.