17 killed in mass shooting at Florida high school

Parents react to reports of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.

Parents react to reports of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018.   | Photo Credit: Joel Auerbach

19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, an ex-student, has been charged

At least 17 people were killed and 15 injured when a former student opened fire at a high school in Parkland, near Miami, in Florida.

The first victim of the attack was publicly identified on Thursday as Aaron Feis, an assistant coach on the school's football team and a school security guard who was shot while shielding students.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting took place, has a significant number of Indian students. Identities of the victims emerged only slowly, through accounts of affected families, as the authorities had not disclosed their details as of Thursday morning.

Sebastian Devasia, an Indian American originally from Kerala, was waiting to pick up his daughter, who is a ninth grade student in the school, as he does every day, when he saw some commotion and dozens of children pouring out of one gate. “Some even had flowers, and I thought it was something about the Valentine’s Day. In a minute, my daughter was inside the car and we drove home which is about five minutes away,” he told The Hindu by phone.

They did not know about the shooting until they reached home. Soon, there were ambulances and police cars all around and helicopters above, Mr. Devasia said, relieved that his daughter escaped unhurt. “It is a huge building, where more than 3,000 students study. The shooting happened at some distance away from where my daughter was,” he said.

'PIOs saved by sheer luck'

Sajan Kurian, a Democratic Party functionary and a member of the Broward County school board task force, said there were no indications of any harm to any student of Indian origin. Mr. Kurian, who has been in touch with Sheriff Scott Israel over the incident, said the police were planning to release the identities of the victims around noon local time on Thursday.

“The locality has a huge South Asian population. People from all parts of India live here. At least a few students of Indian origin were within the danger zone, and were saved by sheer luck,” said Sunil Thymattom, General Secretary of Indian Press Club of North America, who lives 30 km away from the school.

Mr. Kurian said it was unclear whether a Safety Resource Officer (SRO) was present at the school at the time of the incident. “Usually, schools have at least one SRO. The presence of an SRO could have prevented this.”

Suspect charged

The police have charged the suspect, identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who was expelled from the school last year. His adoptive mother died four months ago and he was taken in by a family that has a child attending the same school.

Mr. Israel told reporters that Cruz was armed with “countless” magazines and an AR-15 rifle, a semi-automatic weapon that has been used in most mass shootings in America. Mr. Cruz’s angry disposition led to him being expelled, and was listed by school administrators as a potential threat. Some reports also said he had been treated for depression.

Violent behaviour

Despite clear indications of his unstable mental status and violent behaviour, Cruz could legally buy firearms in America. Florida’s Republican politicians have ensured that the State has lax gun control measures.

The State’s Republican Governor has been championing a law that targeted paediatricians who asked parents about firearms in the home. The American Medical Association “encourages its members to inquire as to the presence of household firearms as a part of childproofing the home and to educate patients to the dangers of firearms to children”. Last year, a U.S. court struck down the law.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 2:22:06 PM |

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