An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years.
Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the assault weapon used in the attack.
As reactions poured in Thursday, President Donald Trump focused on the young man’s mental health, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he wants the Justice Department to study how mental illness and gun violence intersect, to better understand how law enforcement can better use existing laws to intervene before these school shootings happen.
“It cannot be denied that something dangerous and unhealthy is happening in our country,” Sessions told a group of sheriffs in Washington. In “every one of these cases, we’ve had advance indications and perhaps we haven’t been effective enough in intervening.”
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he will work to make sure people with mental illness do not get guns. Broward County Schools Superintendent Rob Runcie said “now is the time to have a real conversation about gun control legislation,” and said that if adults can’t manage that in their lifetimes, students will do it.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel called for giving law enforcement more power to detain people who make threats.
“What I’m asking our lawmakers to do is go back to places like Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to give police the power,” the sheriff said, to detain people who make graphic threats or post disturbing material online, and bring them involuntarily to mental health professionals to be examined.
The sheriff also castigated people who he said are making copycat threats at other schools, warning that anyone caught will be fully prosecuted.
Fourteen wounded survivors were hospitalized as bodies of the slain were recovered from inside and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The slain included a school athletic director and another adult who worked as a monitor at the school. Runcie called them heroes.
Cruz, still wearing a hospital gown early Thursday after being treated for labored breathing, and weighing in at 5-foot-7 and 131 pounds, was ordered held without bond and booked into jail.
His former classmates thought they were having another drill when a fire alarm sounded, requiring them to leave their classrooms Wednesday.
That’s when police say Cruz, equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and magazines of ammunition, opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, killing 17 people and sending hundreds of students fleeing into the streets.
It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago. The overall death toll differs by how such shootings are defined, but Everytown For Gun Safety has tallied 290 school shootings in America since 2013, and this attack makes 18 so far this year.