At approximately 2:30pm local time Wednesday, February 14, 2018, reports emerged of an active shooter situation at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A former student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, opened fire through the high school halls, leaving 17 dead and dozens of others injured. Cruz was reportedly wearing a gas mask, and was armed with a .223 caliber semiautomatic AR-15 rifle and smoke grenades. He began his shooting rampage outside of the building shortly before dismissal time and then proceeded into the building and pulled a fire alarm, prompting students to exit the classrooms. Cruz continued down hallways, firing at students and teachers until he fled the school, concealing himself among the hundreds of fleeing students. Cruz was located roughly one hour later in a nearby neighborhood in Coral Springs, after investigators were able to identify him from the school’s security videos. He was reportedly arrested without incident, taken to a hospital for unreported reasons, and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. A specific motive for the shooting is not known at this time. Authorities report that Cruz was a former student at the school, but was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons. According to reports, Cruz was adopted and his adopted mother had died in November of pneumonia while his father passed on years ago.
Leading up to the shooting, there were a series of reported red flags and indicators of Cruz’s inclination for violence. Cruz was reportedly expelled after fighting with his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, and was known as “strange” and possibly violent by other classmates. Unconfirmed reports indicate that teachers at the school suggested that Cruz be barred from bringing a backpack to the campus, after he reportedly brought bullets concealed in a backpack on one occasion. In addition, investigators stated that Cruz’s social media posts were “very, very disturbing,” and reportedly posted highly alarming material on social media before the shooting rampage. Cruz’s personal Instagram account reportedly displayed images of himself brandishing handguns and knives. Cruz’s face is not depicted clearly in most images, as the majority of images depict Cruz with black scarves covering his face. In September of last year, a YouTube account, believed to belong to the shooter, was reported to the FBI after the account left a comment on a video stating, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” It is important to note that individuals oftentimes use social media to express their feelings freely, including violent thoughts and desires to harm others. This shooting highlights the connection that is often apparent between violent or threatening social media activity and violent acts.
Recent reports have revealed that Cruz was allegedly a member of a Florida white nationalist group, the Republic of Florida, and may have attended paramilitary training sessions that the group held in Tallahassee. At this time, it is unclear whether Cruz used any tactics learned in the paramilitary training while carrying out yesterday’s shooting. Cruz was able to successfully carry out the attack partly due to the fact that schools are often considered soft targets with little to no security. Cruz entered the building, allegedly without issue, before setting off the fire drill and forcing students to flood the hallways, allowing him to inflict mass casualties. Yesterday’s attack is among the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history, and marked the 18th school shooting in the U.S. of 2018. The shooting highlights the importance of taking into account red flags and patterns of behaviors from potentially violent individuals.