Parents of Florida students struggle with the unfathomable — burying their children
Madison Park, Emanuella Grinberg and Jason Hanna, CNN
Published at | Updated at
(CNN) — Anguish and sorrow are giving way to anger Friday as the families of some of the 17 people killed in a South Florida school prepare to do the unimaginable — bury their children.
Thousands from the community around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — where authorities say an expelled student gunned down students and staff Wednesday afternoon — joined in a powerful candlelight vigil Thursday night, joining the rest of the country in asking: Why?
Survivors and victims’ relatives are directing their ire at state and national politicians, demanding action and venting frustration over allegations that 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz expressed a desire to commit exactly the kind of massacre of which he’s accused.
“President Trump, you say, ‘What can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools!” Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at the school, told CNN.
“What can you do? You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children [to] go to school and have to get killed!”
Trump says he’ll travel to the state on Friday, the same day that one of the first funerals — for Alyssa, 14 — will be held.
• Jim Gard, a math teacher at the school, says an administrator sent an email in late 2016 asking to be notified if Cruz came on campus with a backpack. The administrator gave no explanation for the email, Gard said.
• An initial investigation indicates Cruz fired nearly 150 shots from his rifle, according to a law enforcement source speaking on condition of anonymity.
• President Donald Trump will travel to Florida Friday to meet with people in Parkland, he said on Twitter.
• Cruz purchased the firearm used in the shooting, an AR-15 style rifle, legally in Florida nearly a year ago, according to Peter J. Forcelli, special agent in charge of the Miami division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
• Cruz purchased at least three other guns in the last year, the anonymous law enforcement source said.
• Cruz confessed to police that he was the gunman, according to a probable cause affidavit. His public defender described him as a “broken human being” who is coming to grips with the pain he has caused.
‘We are broken’
The sheriff’s office identified the 17 victims Thursday — which included three staff members and 14 students. The school is closed for the rest of the week, as the district offers grief counseling to students and their families.
At Thursday’s vigil, Fred Guttenberg, the father of one victim, spoke of his pain.
“I sent her to school yesterday,” Guttenberg, his voice on the verge of breaking, said of his 14-year-old daughter Jaime. “She was supposed to be safe. My job is to protect my children and I sent my kid to school.”
“What is unfathomable is that Jaime took a bullet and is dead,” he paused, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I do next… We are broken.”
The shooting is at least the fourth at US middle and high schools this year, and has reignited a debate over gun control. Some blame congressional inaction for the massacre while others say now is not the time for such political battles.
Alhadeff is one of several parents and students who are calling for lawmakers to take action. She and her husband, Illan, are demanding stronger gun control laws and tighter school security, including metal detectors and more armed officers or guards.
“President Trump: … You need to help us now,” she said, distraught, hours after identifying her daughter’s body at a morgue. “We need security now for all these children that have to go to school. We need action! Action! Action!”
Isabelle Robinson, a student at the school, said the gun control issue “shouldn’t be a fight between two different parties.”
“This should be a coming together where we all realize that something is wrong,” she said.
Trump said he will meet with families and officials in Parkland. He also pledged to hold a meeting with “the nation’s governors and attorney generals where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority.”
Suspect ‘remorseful,’ attorney says
Cruz is being held without bond after he attended a brief hearing Thursday in Broward County court. He confessed to police to being the gunman, according to a probable cause affidavit, and is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful,” said public defender Melisa McNeill, who is Cruz’s lead defense counsel. “He is fully aware of what is going on. He’s just a broken human being.”
Cruz entered the high school he had once attended on Wednesday around 2:21 p.m., according to a law enforcement timeline.
In the minutes leading to the shooting, he exchanged texts with the son of his host family, who had opened up their home to Cruz after his adoptive mother died last year. Their son is a current student at the high school, and was there during the shooting.
They were messaging until 2:18 p.m., said Jim Lewis, the attorney for the host family.
The texts were “very innocuous,” Lewis said. “They were just conversations about ‘Hey, what are you doing? What are you doing later? What’s goin’ on?'”
After the shooting, Cruz fled the building by blending in with the students and staff evacuating the school. He bought a drink at a Subway store, then sat at a McDonald’s for a few minutes, the timeline states.
Investigators identified Cruz from school security videos and he was detained about 40 minutes later in a neighboring community.
FBI received warning about YouTube comment
Questions are emerging about possible warning signs Cruz left on social media.
He was expelled last year from Stoneman Douglas high school due to disciplinary problems, according to Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Cruz’s apparent digital footprint, which includes slurs against blacks and Muslims and declarations of wanting to shoot people with an AR-15, paint a disturbing picture.
Posts under videos on YouTube and other sites by someone using the name Nikolas Cruz include threatening comments, such as:
“I whana shoot people with my AR-15.”
“I wanna die Fighting killing s**t ton of people.”
On an Instagram account under the name @Nikolascruzmakarov, the profile picture shows a person wearing a mask and a “Make America Great Again” hat. Other posts include a photo of a rifle, a collection of firearms on a bed, and a photo taken through a scope looking out a window.
A video blogger said he warned the FBI in September about a possible school shooting threat from a YouTube user with the same name as Cruz. An FBI agent confirmed that a field officer in Jackson, Mississippi, received the tip and interviewed the person who shared it.
But no additional information was found to help identify the person who posted the comment and no connection was made to South Florida, said Robert Lasky, FBI special agent in charge of the Miami division.
Also, Jim Gard, a math teacher at the school, said an administrator sent an email out in late 2016 asking staff to notify him if Cruz came on campus with a backpack. Cruz was one of Gard’s students at the time; the administrator gave no explanation for the email, Gard said.
Cruz was in Gard’s class for only a couple of months, and never gave Gard any problems, the teacher said.
‘Significant mental illness’
Questions also are being raised about Cruz’s home life and mental health.
Cruz was adopted — but his adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, died in November of pneumonia, and his adoptive father passed away years ago, said Kathie Blaine, Lynda’s cousin.
After Lynda Cruz’s death, the family of someone Cruz met at the high school let him stay in their home, said Lewis, the host family’s attorney.
That family knew he had a gun, Lewis said. “They had it locked up, and believed that that was going to be sufficient, that there wasn’t going to be a problem.”
The family was unaware of any mental illness beyond depression over his adoptive mother’s death, Lewis said.
“Obviously, he’d lost his mom. But they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store. They got him going to an adult education so he could try to get his GED and he seemed to be doing better,” Lewis said.
But Gordon Weekes, executive chief assistant of Broward’s public defender’s office, which is representing Cruz, said Thursday that Cruz is “suffering from significant mental illness and significant trauma.”
“He has been experiencing and enduring mental illness his entire life. That has been an ongoing issue that he has been dealing with. That, coupled with the loss of his mother, the depression, and other issues,” Weekes said.
Before Lynda Cruz died, Broward sheriff’s deputies were called to the Cruz family home 39 times since 2010, according to documents obtained by CNN.
The sheriff’s office received a range of emergency calls that included reports of a mentally ill person, child/elderly abuse, a domestic disturbance and a missing person.
Details of those calls are not immediately available; most of them are marked “no written report,” so it’s impossible to know if they involved Nikolas Cruz.
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