Hundreds mourn at vigil for victims of Florida high school shoot - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Hundreds mourn at vigil for victims of Florida high school shooting

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of ... (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of ...
Suspected shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was expelled from the school in 2017 for disciplinary reasons. (Source: WSVN/CNN) Suspected shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was expelled from the school in 2017 for disciplinary reasons. (Source: WSVN/CNN)
Parents wait for news after reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach) Parents wait for news after reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
Attendees react at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Source: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Attendees react at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Source: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Nikolas Cruz is in Broward County, FL, jail, accused of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL. (Source: Broward County Sheriff) Nikolas Cruz is in Broward County, FL, jail, accused of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL. (Source: Broward County Sheriff)

PARKLAND, FL (RNN) – Hundreds of people in Parkland, FL, gathered Thursday evening at a vigil for the victims of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school that left 17 people dead.

The crowd gathered at the Parkland Amphitheatre for prayer, song and uplifting speeches from leaders in the area. A few protesters showed up with signs saying "enough is enough" and "no more guns," according to CNN.

At one point, those in attendance broke out into a chant of "no more guns."

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel spoke at Thursday night's vigil and was touched by the number of people who showed up. He promised the crowd there will be "common-sense gun laws" in the area.

As the vigil neared its conclusion, attendees were urged to leave a post-it note on one of three walls surrounding the venue with a good deed they planned to do. Organizers wanted to capture the raw emotion of the night and make sure people stayed committed to kindness towards their neighbor.

The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, confessed to being the shooter Thursday, according to the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

Nikolas Cruz, the suspect and a former student at the high school, also confessed to hiding extra ammunition in his backpack.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He made a brief preliminary appearance in court Thursday and is being held without bond.

Cruz is on suicide watch, according to his attorney, who described Cruz as "saddened by the loss of children." 

Earlier in the day, Israel confirmed an Uber driver dropped the gunman off at the school at 2:19.p.m. on Wednesday.

He entered the school carrying a soft black case with a rifle inside. Two minutes later, he opened fire in several classrooms, according to investigators.

Israel said the gunman left the school and went to a Subway restaurant inside a Wal-Mart to buy something to drink. He left the Subway and went to a McDonald's. He was arrested by Coconut Creek police around 45 minutes after he left the McDonald's.

Coconut Creek police officer Michael Leonard apprehended Cruz, who was arrested without incident in a residential neighborhood about a mile away from the school.

“He looked like a typical high school student and for a quick moment, I thought, ‘Could this be the person? Is this who I need to stop?’ " Leonard said. "Training kicked in, I pulled my vehicle over (and) immediately engaged the suspect. He complied with my commands and was taken into custody without any issues.”

Israel pleaded with members of the press to respect the privacy of the families of victims.

“Please respect these families," Israel said. "They lost children. They lost loved ones. Can you imagine what they’re going through?”

Uber said Thursday that Cruz used the ride-hailing service before the shooting but investigators do not believe the driver is complicit in the shooting.

The company wouldn't answer questions regarding if the Uber driver noticed anything concerning Cruz's behavior or if he was carrying a gun or a large case.

FBI agent-in-charge Robert Lasky said in a news conference Thursday that agents investigated suspicious YouTube comments from someone with the same name as alleged school shooter, Cruz. 

"The comment simply said 'I'm going to be a professional school shooter," he said, but there was no specific threat made and they couldn't identify the user beyond that.

President Donald Trump spoke of sorrow in a news conference Thursday, hours before the 19-year-old suspect was charged in connection to a mass shooting that killed 17 at a high school in one of the safest cities in Florida.

Trump spoke briefly about the violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"Yesterday, a school filled with innocent students and teachers became the scene of terrible violence and evil," Trump said.

"To 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," Trump said.

He also said the administration is working closely with authorities to investigate the shooting, and said they are going to look at what they can do to address mental health.

On Feb. 13, Trump signed a bill into law that rolled back an Obama-era regulation that made it more difficult for those with a mental illness to get a gun, according to a report by NBC News.

On Thursday, Trump addressed children and those who feel "lost, confused or scared: I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you."

He encouraged those who need help to turn to a teacher, police officer or faith leader.

"Let us come together as a nation, wipe away the tears and strive for a better tomorrow," he said.

Trump also said he would make school safety a top priority when he meets with governors later this month.

He didn't, however, address gun control in his brief remarks and ignored a question about it as he left the podium.

Among those killed were an assistant football coach and security guard, who used his last moments to save lives.

The Twitter account for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School football team posted that Aaron Feis and athletic director Chris Hixon were among two of the 17 people who died when a former student attacked their school.

"He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories," the football program said on Twitter.

Feis was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery but died from his injuries. The coach's death was confirmed by Israel, the Miami Herald reported. 

He graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 1999 and worked mainly with the junior varsity football team. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie paid tribute to Feis and Hixon: "Unfortunately, those two heroes gave their lives for our kids."

"Everyone loved him. Shame he had to go like this. Always gave his all to making us better. Definitely learned a lot from him," sophomore Douglas lineman Gage Gaynor told the Miami Herald.

Israel knew Feis personally, having coached with him, and Feis coached his kids. He predicted "2,000 kids" will go to Feis' funeral.

"He did it protecting others, I can guarantee that," Israel said.

The Broward Education Foundation has set up a GoFundMe for the victims, which is already at $497,637. It's goal has been updated to $600,000

In a news conference, Gov. Rick Scott said he wants the legislature in Tallahassee to look into measures keeping weapons from those with mental illnesses.

"How do we make sure that individuals with mental illnesses cannot touch a gun?" he said. He also wants the legislator to address school safety.

"The violence has to stop. We cannot lose another child in this country to violence in a school," Scott said. 

Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie said that family and students are calling for a conversation on "sensible gun control" to combat gun violence.

"Our students are asking for that conversation. I hope we can get it done in this generation. And if we can't, they will," he said.

Runcie also called for more resources in the school district to help those who are mentally ill. 

In the deadly school shooting, Cruz, a former student, allegedly set off fire alarms at the school about 10 minutes before dismissal time and then opened fire as students and faculty filed into common areas, thinking it was a drill.

Israel said they believe they know where the gun was purchased.

Orphaned late last year when his mother died from the flu, Cruz was expelled from the school in 2017 for disciplinary reasons. Cruz was abusive toward his ex-girlfriend and fought with her new boyfriend, according to reports.

Earlier reports that Cruz was a member of the separatist group Republic of Florida are now being disputed by its leader, Jordan Jereb, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a 2014 Intelligence Report, described the Republic of Florida "as a would-be militia made up of kids barely old enough to buy guns."

Jereb had earlier told the Anti-Defamation League that Cruz had been "brought up" into the group by one of the members of Republic of Florida, but on Thursday Jereb walked back that statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"There was a legit misunderstanding because we have MULTIPLE people named Nicholas in ROF," Jereb tweeted.

Local law enforcement also has not found a connection between Cruz and Republic of Florida, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

He allegedly used an AR-15-style weapon to shoot adults and students at the school and was found with several magazines on him.

The gun was purchased legally and police also found a gas mask and grenades, according to Broward Sheriff's Office.

Twelve of the victims were shot inside the building, two were shot outside and one was killed on the road next to the school, Israel said.

Two victims died at a hospital.

Fifteen others were wounded in the attack and taken to area hospitals.

Authorities identified Cruz after watching school security video. He was arrested in a nearby neighborhood in Coral Springs, FL.

Stoneman Douglas High School will be closed for the remainder of the week, Runcie said. Counselors will be available for students and teachers beginning Thursday morning.

He said the suspect was enrolled at a school in the school system at the time of the shooting.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said the state of Florida is prepared to pay for the funerals of all the deceased victims and pay for counseling for all the survivors.

Deputies responded to the scene after shots were reported around the school’s dismissal time of 3 p.m. ET. Students told media that they heard the fire alarm go off about 10 minutes before school let out.

The students then fled back inside the building as the shooting began, while others ran to nearby businesses.

Responding deputies encountered hundreds of students fleeing the school. Investigators said Cruz had concealed himself in the crowd and was among those running out.

Parents attempted to reach some of their children as police and tactical teams swept through the school, going building to building and clearing each room.

"I am sitting here in my car in this traffic jam just like, 'I wish my car could fly at the moment,'" said Simone Kuffner, whose son Shawn attends the high school.

Lissette Rozenblet told CNN her daughter evacuated to a nearby Walmart along with other students. Some parents said they were scared to call or text their children in case their phones were not on silent, afraid that a noise would alert the gunman to their child's presence.

A freshman at the school who also fled to the Walmart, Geovanni Vilsant, told the Miami Herald he saw at least three bodies on the ground as he fled the first floor of the building where the shooting began.

"There was blood everywhere. They weren't moving," he said.

Teacher Melissa Falkowski told CNN she managed to put 19 students in a closet when the shooting began.

"We got maybe 15 to 20 steps out of the classroom, and we were told we were on 'Code Red,' and we ran back inside to the classroom and got them crouched down on the floor," she said. "And then we moved into the closet, and we were hidden in the closet."

Parkland is a city of about 30,000 people, about 15 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale, FL. The public high school has an enrollment of 3,158 students and serves grades ninth through 12.

Parkland was named Florida's safest city last year, according to data from Washington-based National Council for Home Safety and Security.

The group said the city had only seven reported violent crimes and 186 property crimes the previous year.

Copyright 2018 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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