The morning after the worst high school shooting in American history unfolded in the Broward County suburb of Parkland, parents, police, grief counselors and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High struggled to make sense of a massacre that killed 17 people and injured at least 15 more.
This is America’s 18th school shooting this year, and once again a community asked itself familiar questions: How did everyone miss the signs that the suspected shooter was deeply troubled, especially given his ominous postings to social media? And what could be done to prevent such a tragedy from happening again?
On National Public Radio early Thursday, Broward Mayor Beam Furr suggested the shooting could have been prevented.
“We missed the signs,” said Furr, a former teacher, adding that the suspected shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had been receiving mental health counseling. “We should have seen some of the signs.”
“We have to be more vigilant,” agreed Michael Udine, also on NPR, a Broward commissioner and former mayor of the city where the massacre unfolded. “If this can happen in a city like Parkland, it can happen anywhere.”
Cruz, a former student at Douglas High, was booked into the county jail Thursday morning after prosecutors charged him with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Police had arrested Cruz on Wednesday after he attempted to blend in with students fleeing the scene. Cruz was wearing a military uniform from his JROTC class — the U.S Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps — according to one witness, and Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies said they were able to track his movements using the school’s video surveillance.
Jonathan Guimaraes, 17, a senior at Douglas High, said he knew Cruz from their JROTC class last year.
“He was quiet, nice,” Guimaraes said. “That’s how he was able to blend in. He was wearing his JROTC uniform.”
On Thursday, investigators and a stunned community began trying to reconstruct the events of Wednesday.
Investigators apparently were able to identify Cruz even as the shooting was occurring, according to one teacher at the school, who asked not to be identified. He said he had locked his students in a classroom and that he could hear a police radio outside the door. The teacher said he heard Cruz’s name and a police officer say the suspected shooter might be headed toward the middle school nearby.
Broward officials also offered more details of the deadly rampage. While much remains unclear about the sequence of the shooting, Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said early Thursday that fire alarms at the school had been tripped by gun smoke from the assault weapon that Cruz allegedly used — not by Cruz himself, as had been reported previously.
Gabriella Figueroa, 16, was in geometry class in a nearby building when she said the fire alarm went off at about 2:20 p.m., shortly before dismissal.
Figueroa said she went in the hallway and heard a popping sound. She tried to get back into her class, but the teacher had locked the door, she said.
“It felt so close,” Figueroa said.
So she banged on the classroom next door, and the teacher let her and her friends inside.
“We were so thankful,” she said.
Figueroa said they crouched on the ground at first, then hid in a book closet with the door pulled closed behind them. She said about 10 people stayed inside the hot closet for about two hours until police let them out.
“I was panicking,” Figueroa said, adding that students were following the news on their cell phones. “I couldn't believe what was happening.”
By the time the shooting was over, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said, 12 people had died inside the school building, two died outside, one died on the street and two in an area hospital. The injured were taken to Broward Health North in Pompano Beach and Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.
As the pain of the prior day’s shooting settled in, grief counselors on Thursday morning fanned out to area parks, schools and libraries to help students, families and teachers cope with the tragedy.
Herald Staff Writers Manny Navarro, Nicholas Nehamas contributed to this report.