In Florida’s safest city Wednesday, on a day dedicated to love, a gunman carrying an AR-15 rifle stormed a high school in Parkland, Fla., and started shooting. Witnesses first confused his bullets with popping chip bags and firecrackers. Then they heard screams and saw blood and bodies.
By Thursday afternoon, the death toll stood at 17, officials said, and at least 14 more were injured. This mass shooting, among the country’s 10 deadliest, unfolded in real time through graphic social media videos and frantic text messages.
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Matt Walker, Alexander Ball, AP
Some 15 minutes before the dismissal bell should have rung, the hallways at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School instead are flooded with the screech of an alarm and the rapid thump of automatic gunfire. Students and staff in the building — who had been reading “Macbeth” and teaching math — take cover but are confused. Earlier that morning, the school had staged a fire drill. Was this, they wondered, another test?
A lockdown inside the school is lifted. In the hours that followed, SWAT teams cleared classrooms where fearful students hid under chairs and in closets. Frantic parents, gathered beside ambulances and police cars, reunited with their children while emergency workers treated the wounded on sidewalks. Aerial footage of the evacuation captured a sad, yet familiar, scene: children walking in single file, hands up or clutching the shoulders of their classmates.
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images; John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/AP
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John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/AP
Police find Nikolas Cruz walking two miles from the school in clothes that matched the suspect’s description. “Get on the ground!” the officer shouted, a witness told The Washington Post. Cruz, who was expelled from Douglas last year, was later charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and confessed to the rampage. He told authorities he took an Uber to the school, fired inside and outside, and, when students began to flee, dropped his rifle and ammunition vest so “he could blend into the crowd,” an officer wrote in a probable cause affidavit obtained by The Post.
Broward County Jail via AP; Wilfredo Lee/AP
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In a TV interview, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie explains how he learned of the mass shooting at Douglas. At the same time Cruz started firing, Runcie joyfully tweeted about giving away a car to the school district’s teacher of the year. Soon he was getting notifications that Valentine’s Day at Douglas had turned deadly.
All afternoon, unconfirmed numbers for the injured and dead fluctuated. Then, at 5:50, came the first verified death toll, from ABC News: 15 dead. Fifteen minutes later, CNN reported “at least 16” were killed. Officials later confirmed that 17 people, including adults and children, had died. Twelve victims were discovered inside the school. Two others were found just outside. Another was found along a local road, and two more died at a hospital.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/AP
In a tweet, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office identifies Cruz as the suspect, and soon, details of the teen begin to emerge. He had previously been treated at a mental-health clinic and both of his parents had died in recent years. An Instagram account that appears to belong to Cruz showed several photos of guns, including one with at least six rifles and handguns.
Although President Trump tweeted soon after the shooting, it wasn’t until nearly 24 hours later that he addressed the American people during a news conference at the White House. He offered his prayers and condolences to the victims’ families.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
“For every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain.”
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
By Katie Mettler, Clare Ramirez, Nick Kirkpatrick, Joanne Lee, Zhiyan Zhong, and Leslie Shapiro
Reporting by The Washington Post