Watch CBS News

Teen Suspect Charged With 17 Murder Counts In Florida High School Attack

PARKLAND, Fla. (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) -- A 19-year-old former student suspected of killing at least 17 people at a Florida high school faced a judge on Thursday.

As CBS2's Jessica Moore reported, court documents showed Nikolas Cruz admitted to carrying out the attack on Wednesday. He was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after being booked into the Broward County Jail still wearing a hospital gown he was given after being treated for labored breathing following his arrest.

PHOTOS: Parkland Florida In Mourning


A judge ordered Cruz held without bond. Jail records did not immediately list an attorney for him.

Click here to donate to the families of victims and survivors.

"Law enforcement will do everything we can -- the FBI, ourselves -- to make sure this person is convicted of all charges and that justice is served," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news conference Thursday.

Meanwhile Thursday, the FBI was facing questions surrounding intelligence it had about Cruz months before the attack. New information Thursday indicated that Cruz had ties to a white supremacist group and even participated in paramilitary drills.

The leader of a white nationalist militia said Cruz was a member of his group and participated in the drills in Tallahassee. Jordan Jereb told The Associated Press on Thursday that his group, the Republic of Florida, 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.

Jereb said he didn't know 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." He also said he had "trouble with a girl" and he believed the timing of the attack, carried out on Valentine's Day, wasn't a coincidence.

Investigators on Thursday were also poring over Cruz's online presence, including a disturbing comment he allegedly made last year.

"In 2017, the FBI received information about a comment made on a YouTube channel," FBI agent Rob Lasky said Thursday. "The comment said: 'I'm going to be a professional school shooter.'''

Lasky added that a database check was conducted, but said he was "not willing to say if it was the same person."

"No other information was included with that comment which would indicate a time, location or the true identity of the person making that comment," Lasky said.

Ben Bennight told CBS News' Jeff Pegues he warned the FBI last September about the comment allegedly posted by Cruz. Bennight, who BuzzFeed News reports is a Mississippi bail bondsman, spoke with the FBI last year for about 20 minutes, and there was no follow-up from the FBI after that initial conversation, Pegues reports.

Bennight told Pegues he spoke with the FBI Wednesday night again for about 20 minutes. They wanted to know if he knew anything more after first reporting the YouTube video last year.

In another incident, a law enforcement source said the Broward County Sheriff's Office was apparently notified in February 2016 of an Instagram posting under the name of Nikolas Cruz that he was going to shoot his school, CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports. The Instagram posting was accompanied by a photo of Cruz holding a weapon. It had been posted a month earlier, in January 2016.

"At times, he had so much anger and pain inside of him that you know, I felt that he might at some time be a danger to himself, maybe," said Paul Gold, a neighbor of the suspect's.

Around 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, police said Cruz used a semiautomatic rifle to massacre teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland – which he had attended previously and from which he had been expelled.

As CBS2's Ali Bauman reported, police said Cruz first took an Uber to his former high school and then opened fire on the first and second floors, dropped his rifle on the floor and ran.

"I don't know how we're alive," one girl said.

"I think about three in my classroom got hurt," another said. "I just saw blood everywhere."

"And once the police escorted us, I had to step over a dead body to get out of my classroom. It was right outside of my classroom," said student Sidney Fischer. "There was a dead body, laying like a fish."

Investigators said Cruz was armed with multiple magazines, an AR-15 rifle and smoke grenades, and was wearing a gas mask.

"How do we allow a gunman to come into our children's school? How do they get through security? What security is there?" said Lori Alhadeff, the mother of a victim.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said "the violence has to stop," adding, "We cannot lose another family to violence in a school."

The governor said that he will sit down with city leaders next week "to have a real conversation so we have public safety for schools in this state."

"I want to make sure that my children, my grandchildren, yours, everybody in this state can wake up and be safe," Scott said.

Israel said all of the families of the victims have been notified. The names of the victims were all released Thursday.

"I just spend the last two hours putting a burial arrangement for my daughter's funeral, who's 14," Lori Alhadeff said. "President Trump, please do something."

The sheriff also said copycat threats have been made against other schools.

"We will respond to every threat. Every threat we receive we will not classify it as a copycat or a prank call. We will respond in full and investigate it," he said.

Israel said Wednesday that Cruz had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for unspecified disciplinary reasons.

PHOTOS: 17 Dead In Florida School Shooting | MORE FROM CBS MIAMI

Israel said Wednesday that Cruz had been expelled from the school for unspecified disciplinary reasons.

PHOTOS: 17 Dead In Florida School Shooting | MORE FROM CBS MIAMI

Just before the shooting started Wednesday afternoon, some students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School thought they were having another fire drill.

Such an exercise had forced them to leave their classrooms hours earlier. So when the alarm went off again shortly before they were to be dismissed, they once again filed out into the hallways.

That's when police said Cruz opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, eventually killing 17 people and sending hundreds of students fleeing into the streets.

"We were in the corner, away from the windows," said freshman Max Charles, who claimed he heard five gunshots. "The teacher locked the door and turned off the light. I thought maybe I could die or something."

"As soon as the fire alarm got pulled and kids were evacuating, I heard five pops," another student said.

"For like 30 minutes, we were like praying and crying and then the police came and we just got out," freshman Bruna Aleveda said.

Outside, the wounded were triaged on the ground as classmates ran past searching for a safe place. Inside, kids hid under their desks as a SWAT team with guns drawn cleared every room.

"Our first responders can never unsee what they saw yesterday. We will work with them to make sure they get the resources they need to get through this as part of the community," Coral Springs-Parkland Fire Department Chief Frank Babinec said. "Everybody that treated these patients did it with such a high-level of professionalism and readiness that I cannot say enough about."

Cruz was taken into custody without a fight about an hour after the shooting in a residential neighborhood about a mile away.

"I discovered an individual walking down the sidewalk that was wearing the clothing description that had been given over the radio," Coconut Creek Police Officer Michael Leonard said. "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?' Training kicked in, I pulled my vehicle over immediately, engaged the suspect, he complied with my commands and was taken into custody without any issues."

He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.

Israel said Thursday the high school campus had an armed officer, but the officer never encountered the suspect during the attack.

Cruz's mother, Lynda Cruz, died of pneumonia on Nov. 1, neighbors, friends and family members said, according to the Sun Sentinel. Cruz and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Nikolas and his biological brother, Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island to Broward County.

The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island, said. An attorney for a family who took him in says they never expected this.

"Was working at a Dollar store, was going to adult education to get his schooling up," attorney Jim Lewis said. "Other than being a little depressed because of the mother situation, he seem absolutely normal."

But Lewis recalled an exchange on the morning of the massacre.

"He was supposed to go to adult education school that morning, but when he was woken up he said, 'It's Valentine's Day. I don't go to school on Valentine's Day,'" Lewis recalled.

Sources close to Cruz told CBS he bought an AR-15 and shotgun legally as soon as he turned 18.

Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he did not know of any threats posed by Cruz to the school.

"Typically you see in these situations that there potentially could have been signs out there," Runcie said. "I would be speculating at this point if there were, but we didn't have any warnings. There weren't any phone calls or threats that we know of that were made."

Seven injured victims remained hospitalized late Thursday, and doctors said several of them were in critical condition.

The State of Florida is offering to pay for every funeral and counseling for all students staff and surviving victims. The school was to be closed for the rest of the week.

President Donald Trump also addressed the nation Thursday and issued a proclamation honoring the victims that says: "Our Nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones in the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.''

Trump said he'll travel to Florida meet with victims' families, explore how to better secure schools and "tackle the difficult issue of mental health.''

The shooting was the nation's deadliest school shooting since gunman Adam Lanza attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012 – leaving 20 children and six educators dead.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.