By Terry Spencer & Kelli Kennedy
PARKLAND, Fla. — A former student opened fire at a Florida high school Wednesday as classes were being dismissed, killing at least 17 people and sending scores of students running into the streets to escape the bullets.
Frantic parents rushed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where SWAT team members and ambulances had surrounded the campus. Live footage showed emergency workers who appeared to be treating the wounded on sidewalks.
“It is a horrific situation,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “It is a horrible day for us.”
The 19-year-old suspect was taken into custody without incident about an hour after he left the school, authorities said.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the suspect, who was previously expelled for disciplinary reasons, had at least one rifle and multiple magazines.
Multiple sources were reporting Wednesday night that the suspect had used an AR-15 rifle, which has become the gun of choice for mass-shooting perpetrators.
Most of the fatalities were inside the building, though some were found fatally shot outside, the sheriff said.
The shooting came just moments before a ceremony at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb marking the 10-year anniversary since a gunman opened fire in a classroom killing five students and wounding 17, Feb. 14, 2008, before killing himself.
Wednesday’s event marked the 18th school shooting and at least the 40th mass-shooting in the U.S. so far in 2018.
The gunman was identified as Nicolas Cruz by a U.S. official briefed on the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the information publicly.
The day started normally at the school, which had a morning fire drill, and students were in class around 2:30 p.m. when another alarm sounded.
Noah Parness, a 17-year-old junior, said he and the other students calmly went outside to their fire-drill areas when he suddenly heard popping sounds.
“We saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint,” Parness said. “I hopped a fence.”
Beth Feingold said her daughter, Brittani, sent a text at 2:32 p.m. that said, “We’re on code red. I’m fine,” but sent another text shortly afterward saying, “Mom, I’m so scared.”
Brittani later was able to escape the school, but was running along a busy road for part of the time, in what was a very chaotic scene around school — one of the state’s largest in the county with about 3,000 students.
Inside the school, students heard loud bangs as the shooter opened fire. Many of them hid under desks or in closets and barricaded doors.
Live footage showed those students who fled leaving in a single-file line with their hands over their heads as officers urged them to evacuate quickly. Parents hurried to the scene.
Caesar Figueroa said when he got to the school to check on his 16-year-old daughter, he saw police officers drawing machine guns as they approached the campus.
“My wife called me that there was an active shooter, and the school was on lockdown. I got on the road and saw helicopters. … It was crazy and my daughter wasn’t answering her phone.” She finally texted him that she was inside a closet with friends.
Len Murray’s 17-year-old son, a junior at the school, sent his parents a chilling text: “Mom and Dad, there have been shots fired on campus at school. There are police sirens outside. I’m in the auditorium and the doors are locked.”
A few minutes later, he texted again: “I’m fine.”
Murray said he raced to the school only to be stopped by authorities under a highway overpass within view of the school buildings. He said he told his son to save his battery and stop texting, while the boy’s mother told him to turn off his ringer.
Authorities told parents to gather at a nearby hotel to get information.
“I’m scared for the other parents here. You can see the concern in everybody’s faces. Everybody is asking, ‘Have you heard from your child yet?'” Murray said.
Murray said he’s had just one thought running through his mind since he got his son’s text: “All I keep thinking about is when I dropped him off this morning. I usually say, ‘I love you,’ and I didn’t this morning. He’s 17, he’s at that age, and I didn’t say it this morning, and I’m just kicking myself right now over and over and over. Say it early and often, I’m telling you.”
–With Staff reports; This story has been updated.