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© Mark Wilson, Getty/AFP | Students Kelsey Friend (L) and David Hogg recount their stories about yesterday's mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed, on February 15, 2018.

Video by Alex JENNINGS

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2018-02-15

A 19-year-old man who had been expelled from his Florida high school was due in court on Thursday, charged with 17 counts of murder, after authorities say he unleashed one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.

The ex-student, identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday and opened fire on students and teachers, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Police believe he acted alone.

Cruz was expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon for a bond hearing, faced with 17 counts of premeditated murder, said Constance Simmons, a spokeswoman for the state attorney's office.

Cruz was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple ammunition magazines when he surrendered to officers in a nearby residential area, police said. He loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, police and former classmates said.

As the criminal case against the suspect took shape, the leader of a white nationalist militia called the Republic of Florida said Cruz was a member of his group and participated in exercises in Tallahassee.

Jordan Jereb told The Associated Press that he had only a brief interaction a few years ago with Cruz, who came across as "a normal Florida white guy".

Florida school shooting: 'There is no gun control debate happening in politics'

The shooting in a community about 45 miles (72 km) north of Miami was the 18th in a US school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, continuing a troubling pattern that has played out over the past few years.

It was the second-deadliest shooting in a US public elementary or high school after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

The deadliest school shooting in US history was at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 people were killed.

The Florida shooting stirred the long-simmering US debate on the right to bear arms, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Schools across the country have installed electronically secured doors and added security staff, but few legislative solutions have emerged.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior," US President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Thursday. "Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

Trump, who ordered flags to fly at half-staff in a sign of mourning, addressed the nation on Thursday, calling the shooting “a scene of terrible violence, hatred, and evil”. He remained silent on the issue of gun control, but said that making schools safer will be a top priority. “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference,” he said.

Trump, who ordered flags to fly at half-staff in a sign of mourning, plans to address the nation from the White House at 11am EST (16:00 GMT), a spokeswoman said.

A law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the Broward County district, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High board member Donna Korn told a local newspaper. The sheriff's office also provides active shooter training and schools have a single point of entry, she said.

"We have prepared the campuses, but sometimes people still find a way to let these horrific things happen," Korn said.

The first victim of the attack was publicly identified on Thursday as Aaron Feis, an assistant coach on the school's football team and a school security guard who was shot while shielding students, the team said on Twitter.

'The worst in humanity'

Hundreds of panicked students fled the building, running past heavily armed, helmeted police officers while others huddled in closets.

Parents raced to the school of 3,300 students and a nearby hotel that was set up as a checkpoint to find their children.

"This has been a day we’ve seen the worst in humanity," Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said Wednesday.

The assailant wore a gas mask as he stalked into the school carrying a rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from classrooms into hallways, according to Florida's two US senators, who were brief by federal authorities.

Cruz had recently moved in with another family after his mother's death in November, according to Jim Lewis, a lawyer representing the family and local media, bringing his AR-15 along with his other belongings.

The family believed Cruz was depressed, but attributed that to his mother's death, not mental illness.

"They didn't see any danger. They didn't see any kind of predilection this was going to happen," Lewis told CNN.

Cruz may have left warning signs on social media. Buzzfeed reported that a person named Nikolas Cruz left a comment under a YouTube video that read "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The man who posted the video was alarmed and contacted the FBI, Buzzfeed reported.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2018-02-15

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