PARKLAND, Fla. — The leader of a white supremacist group said on Thursday that the suspected gunman in one of the deadliest school shootings in modern American history was a member of his group and had participated in paramilitary drills.
Jordan Jereb, the leader of a group called Republic of Florida, told The Associated Press that he didn’t know Nikolas Cruz personally and that “he acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he’s solely responsible for what he just did.”
Mr. Cruz, 19, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder — one for each of the people he is accused of killing with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday. Mr. Cruz appeared before a judge in Broward County via video conference, clad in an orange jumpsuit and shackled around his hands, feet and waist.
Asked whether he understood the circumstances in which he found himself, Mr. Cruz whispered two words: “Yes, ma’am.”
• The shooting, captured on cellphone video by terrified students at the suburban high school about an hour north of Miami, has renewed a national debate on how to prevent more tragedies. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said he would meet with state lawmakers to secure more funding for school safety and the treatment of mental illness. “If we have somebody that’s mentally ill, they can’t have access to a gun,” Mr. Scott said.
• President Trump said on Thursday he would make school safety a top priority when he meets with the nation’s governors next month. He also said he planned a visit to the grieving Parkland community. “We are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain,” Mr. Trump said in an address to the nation.
• The F.B.I. on Thursday said it received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel which has been attributed to the gunman, but was unable to identify the person.
• The AR-15 rifle used in the attack was purchased legally, at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Florida, according to a federal law enforcement official. “No laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon,” said Peter J. Forcelli, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami. In Florida, an AR-15 is easier to buy than a handgun. Check out more on how the AR-15 became one of the weapons of choice for mass shooters.
• With the Parkland shooting, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern United States history have come in the last five months. Here is a graphic that records the grim toll of school shootings across the nation.
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A white nationalist group claims the suspected gunman as a member.
According to The Associated Press, Jordan Jereb, the leader of Republic of Florida, said that his group wants Florida to become its own white ethno-state. He said his group holds “spontaneous random demonstrations” and tries not to participate in the modern world.
Mr. Jereb also said Mr. Cruz had “trouble with a girl” and he believed the timing of the attack, carried out on Valentine’s Day, wasn’t a coincidence.
An armed police officer at the school did not encounter the gunman during the shooting.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the school resource officer was on campus but did not run into Mr. Cruz. The gunman arrived during dismissal, when the campus was “fairly open,” according to Robert W. Runcie, the superintendent of the Broward County Public Schools.
Among the dead, Sheriff Israel confirmed, was a beloved assistant football coach, Aaron Feis, who coached the sheriff’s two sons.
Dr. Evan Boyar, the director of the department of emergency medicine at Broward Health North, said the hospital received nine of the shooting patients. Four victims remained in critical condition in county hospitals.
The medical professionals at Broward North had prepared for such an event, Dr. Boyar said.
“Nowadays, unfortunately, we do drills for this,” he said. “About nine months ago, we did a drill at our facility specifically for an active shooter.”
The F.B.I. had information about a suspicious comment on YouTube.
Ben Bennight, a bail bondsman in Mississippi, said in a video posted Wednesday that he reported a suspicious comment left on his YouTube channel last fall by a user named “nikolas cruz.”
“I’m going to be a professional school shooter,” the Sept. 24 comment said.
Mr. Bennight took a screenshot of the comment and flagged it to YouTube, which removed the post. Mr. Bennight said he then left a voice mail message at his local F.B.I. field office alerting it to the comment.
Mr. Bennight, 36, spoke briefly with The New York Times on Thursday. He said that when he originally reported the comments to the F.B.I., a pair of agents interviewed him the next morning. Mr. Bennight said two F.B.I. agents visited him a few hours after the shooting on Wednesday, spending about 15 to 20 minutes with him. The agents told him they thought the person who posted on his channel might be connected to the Florida shooting because they had the same name.
The F.B.I. on Thursday released a statement that said it received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel in September 2017. “No other information was included in the comment which would indicate a particular time, location, or the true identity of the person who posted the comment,” the statement said. The F.B.I. said it conducted database reviews and other checks, but was unable to further identify the person who posted the comment.
Mr. Bennight did not fault the F.B.I., he said.
“We live in a country where you can’t just lock people away for saying something,” he said. “You can’t just stuff somebody in a black hole because they said something that makes you uncomfortable. I believe the F.B.I. took it seriously. I hope that they followed up.”
The president calls the gunman ‘mentally disturbed.’
Mr. Trump, in a Twitter post early Thursday, said that people should report anyone behaving like Mr. Cruz to the authorities.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” Mr. Trump said. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
Later, in his televised address, Mr. Trump said he plans to work with state and local leaders to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”
The president has blamed mental illness for previous mass shootings, even as one of his first acts as president was to repeal an Obama-era regulation that would add the names of mentally ill Americans registered with the Social Security Administration to the database used for gun purchase background checks.
Without offering any specific proposals, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said on Thursday, “We’ve got to reverse these trends we’re seeing in these shootings.”
He added that the Justice Department was prepared to enforce existing gun laws and that he met with officials from the Health and Human Services and Education Departments on Thursday to study “the intersection of mental health and criminality and violence.”
The gunman said ‘I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day,’ according to a lawyer.
On weekday mornings, Mr. Cruz usually got up to catch a ride to the adult education courses that the family he had stayed with after his mother’s death last year had encouraged him to attend, the family’s lawyer, Jim Lewis, told CNN. But on Wednesday, he refused to get up, Mr. Lewis said.
Mr. Lewis said that Mr. Cruz explained his reluctance by saying something to the effect of “It’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t go to school on Valentine’s Day.”
He had been staying with the family since November, the month his mother, Lynda Cruz, died. Mr. Lewis said that the family had seen signs of depression in Mr. Cruz, but nothing indicated that he was capable of this kind of violence. The family had allowed Mr. Cruz to bring his gun with him to their house, insisting that he keep it in a lockbox.
“This family did what they thought was right, which was take in a troubled kid and try to help him,” he said.
That included Mr. Lewis encouraging Mr. Cruz to attend adult education courses and work toward his G.E.D. As the months wore on, the family thought his mood seemed to be improving. Though they were aware that he had disciplinary problems at his former school and there were some indications that he had been bullied, he had never shared contempt for the school or anyone there with them.
In the hours after the shooting, people who knew Mr. Cruz described him as a “troubled kid” who enjoyed showing off his firearms, bragging about killing animals and whose mother would resort to calling the police to have them come to their home to try to talk some sense into him.
Melisa McNeill, Mr. Cruz’s public defender, told MSNBC that he did not have the support system to deal with the problems in his life.
“When your brain is not fully developed, you don’t know how to deal with these things,” she said. “That’s the child I’m sitting across from. He’s sad. He’s mournful. He’s remorseful. He is fully aware of what is going on, and he’s just a broken human being.”
Here is what we know about Mr. Cruz’s past.
Democrats are repeating their calls for tougher gun legislation.
“At some point, we’ve got to say enough is enough,” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said on the Senate floor. “Let’s talk about that 19-year-old carrying an AR-15. Let’s do what needs to be done, and let’s get these assault weapons off our streets. Let’s accomplish something on background checks.”
In Parkland, Superintendent Runcie did not mince words.
“Students have been reaching out to me, reaching out to staff, probably board members and others, saying that now is the time for the country to have a real conversation on sensible gun controls in this country,” he said.
Representative Ted Deutch, whose district includes Stoneman Douglas High, said in an interview that skirting the gun question by focusing on mental illness was not enough — an opinion shared openly by numerous students and parents in Parkland, an affluent suburb in Florida’s most intensely Democratic county.
“The superintendent and every person I’ve spoken to in my community since I got here: That’s who’s been talking about guns,” Mr. Deutch said.
But in an interview on WIBC radio on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that public policymakers “shouldn’t just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.” He added, “We need to think less about taking sides and fighting each other politically, and just pulling together.”
Some of the survivors implored Congress to finally take action. Republicans called for prayers, but argued that no single fix to the nation’s gun laws would deter a shooting like the one on Wednesday.
Democrats, who have put forward a spate of gun safety bills only to see them left unaddressed by Republicans, who control the House and Senate, seethed with frustration.
‘The shots were something I’ll never forget’
Moises Lobaton, a senior, was in psychology class when gunfire boomed. The students scurried to try to hide as far away from the door as possible.
“There wasn’t enough space behind the desk, so not all of the kids could fit,” he said.
Shots shattered a glass window on the door, injuring at least three of his classmates, including a girl who “wasn’t moving at all.”
“She was next to a pool of blood, but I couldn’t tell if it was hers or the guy next to hers,” he said. The boy had been shot in the arm and was bleeding profusely. His classmates wrapped the arm in cloth. Another boy called 911.
“The shots were something I’ll never forget. It sounded like bombs going off, one at a time,” he said. “If I was one or two feet to the right, I would have died.”
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