Tuesday May 26th, 2020 6:43AM

Florida governor vows to keep mentally ill from getting guns

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — 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.

Students thought it was just another drill at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when a fire alarm sounded, requiring them to file out of their classrooms Wednesday afternoon. 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.

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 use existing laws to intervene before school shootings begin.

"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's already told House Speaker Paul Ryan that "if someone is mentally ill, he should not have access to a gun." Broward County Schools Superintendent Rob Runcie said "now is the time to have a real conversation about gun control legislation," and if adults can't manage that in their lifetimes, he said 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 said law enforcement can certainly visit gun owners whose mental health is questioned, "whether they have a gun legally or not."

In a national address from the White House a few minutes later, Trump said he wanted to speak directly to America's children, saying "you are never alone, and you never will be."

He said no child should have to go to school fearing for their lives. He said he'll travel to Florida meet with victims' families, explore how to better secure schools, and "tackle the difficult issue of mental health."

At no point did Trump mention guns or how to control them.

Thirteen wounded survivors were hospitalized, including two people in critical condition. The sheriff said some bodies remained inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday as authorities investigate the crime scene. The slain included a school athletic director and another adult who worked as a monitor at the school. Runcie called them heroes.

Cruz was ordered held without bond and booked into jail, still wearing a hospital gown after he also was treated, for labored breathing. The jail said he is 5-foot-7 and weighs 131 pounds.

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.

Trump lamented in a tweet that there were "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 used in the attack about a year ago, law enforcement officials told the AP. The officials, not authorized to discuss this publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity. Federal law allows people 18 and older to legally purchase long guns, including this kind of assault weapon.

Authorities offered no immediate details about a possible motive, except to say that Cruz had been kicked out of the high school, which has about 3,000 students. Students who knew him described a volatile teenager whose strange behavior had caused others to end friendships with him.

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 in New York to Broward County.

The boys were left in the care of a family friend after their mother died, said family member Barbara Kumbatovich, of Long Island.

Unhappy there, Nikolas Cruz asked to move in with a friend's family in northwest Broward. That family agreed and Cruz moved in around Thanksgiving. According to the family's lawyer, who did not identify them, they knew that Cruz owned the AR-15 but made him keep it locked up in a cabinet. He did have the key, however.

Attorney Jim Lewis told the AP that the family is cooperating with authorities, and had no idea he was planning the shooting.

He seemed like "just a mildly troubled kid who'd lost his mom" during the three months they lived together; respectful and quiet, but also sad because his mother had died, Lewis said.

They had "no indication that anything severe like this was wrong," Lewis said. "He totally kept this from everybody."

Lewis also said the family was not aware of any other weapons in the gun cabinet he had, and couldn't talk about how long they knew of the AR-15 because people are looking to sue them now. Photos posted in an Instagram account linked to Cruz show a half-dozen weapons displayed on a mattress and a box of ammunition.

Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior, said Cruz was expelled last school year because he got into a fight with his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. She said he had been abusive to the girl.

"I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him," said Dakota Mutchler, also 17.

Cruz was taken into custody without a fight about an hour after the shooting in a neighborhood about a mile away. He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.

The sheriff said 12 bodies were found inside the building, two more outside, and another a short distance away from the school.

Hearing loud bangs as the shooter fired, many of the students hid under desks or in closets, and teachers locked or barricaded doors.

Freshman Max Charles said he passed four dead students and one dead teacher on his way out, and was relieved to finally find his mother.

"I was happy that I was alive," Max said. "She was crying when she saw me."


This story has been corrected to fix the attribution of a quote to Dakota Mutchler, not Victoria Olvera.


Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson, and Joshua Replogle in Miami, Sadie Gurman in Washington and Bernard McGhee in Atlanta contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Local/State News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Florida governor vows to keep mentally ill from getting guns
Florida Gov. Rick Scott is vowing to do what he can to keep mentally ill people from getting guns. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also is focusing on intervening with mentally ill people before school shootings happen.
11:22AM ( 1 minute ago )
Student starts online petition for gender-neutral graduation robes
​A Gainesville High School senior has started an online petition to urge the school system to switch to gender-neutral graduation robes.
10:21AM ( 1 hour ago )
Lowe's, Home Depot plan to hire at least 133K seasonal workers
Lowe's and Home Depot plan on hiring thousands of workers to fill seasonal jobs as the spring and summer rush approaches.
9:30AM ( 1 hour ago )
Local/State News
Abortion-rights supporters push back against gains by foes
Abortion-rights supporters are fighting back this year as never before against gains made in the past decade by opponents
11:20AM ( 4 minutes ago )
Trump to address nation on deadly mass shooting
President Donald Trump plans to address the nation Thursday morning about the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school
11:18AM ( 6 minutes ago )
Bannon on Hill for closed-door interview in Russia probe
Under threat of subpoena, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has arrived on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview
11:01AM ( 22 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Ramaphosa takes oath as South Africa's president
The Latest: Ramaphosa takes oath as South Africa's president after election in parliament
10:25AM ( 58 minutes ago )
The Latest: Shiffrin finally gets her gold on Olympics Day 6
American Mikaela Shiffrin finally made her Pyeongchang Olympic debut on Day 6, speeding to gold in the women's giant slalom after several days of weather delays
10:17AM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump blames failure to report student accused killing 17
President Donald Trump says neighbors and students should have reported the teenager accused of killing 17 people at his Florida high school
9:59AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Suspect's 'disturbing' social media posts being dissected
A law enforcement official says the former student suspected of killing at least 17 people at a Florida high school posted "very, very disturbing" material on social media before the deadly shooting rampage.
6:58AM ( 4 hours ago )
McDonald's slims down Happy Meal by banishing cheeseburgers
McDonald's is banishing cheeseburgers and chocolate milk from its Happy Meal menu
4:03AM ( 7 hours ago )
I, spy: New Manhattan attraction offers espionage history
Visitors to a new attraction opening in New York City can learn about the elements of spying, its history and find out what kind of spy they could be
3:14AM ( 8 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
10 Things to Know for Today
Among 10 Things to Know: Florida high school shooting plunges city into mourning; American Mikaela Shiffrin wins Olympic giant slalom gold; Ramaphosa set to become new South African president
6:47AM ( 4 hours ago )
Government says American detainee worked for IS in Syria
The U.S. says an American detained by U.S. forces was carrying thumb drives containing bomb-making files and documents describing work he did for the Islamic State group at the time he surrendered in Syria last year
5:39AM ( 5 hours ago )
Porn star says she feels free to discuss Trump encounter
Porn star who alleges she had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump in 2006 says she feels free to discuss her past with the man who would become president now that Trump's personal attorney has acknowledged paying her $130,000 just before Election Day
5:35AM ( 5 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Student starts online petition for gender-neutral graduation robes
​A Gainesville High School senior has started an online petition to urge the school system to switch to gender-neutral graduation robes.
10:21AM ( 1 hour ago )
Lowe's, Home Depot plan to hire at least 133K seasonal workers
Lowe's and Home Depot plan on hiring thousands of workers to fill seasonal jobs as the spring and summer rush approaches.
9:30AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Trump admin denounces new deal on 'Dreamers'
A bipartisan agreement on the status of young immigrants and a border wall with Mexico has emerged from a group of 16 senators
8:32AM ( 2 hours ago )
Tanker truck carrying gasoline, fuel burns on I-85 in Lawrenceville early Thursday
A tanker truck carrying diesel fuel and gasoline caught fire on Interstate 85 northbound near the Boggs Road overpass in Gwinnett County early Thursday morning because of a blown tire.
7:46AM ( 3 hours ago )
Memorial service planned for slain Georgia police officer
​A weekend memorial service is set for a Georgia police officer killed in a shootout that also left two sheriff's deputies wounded and the suspect dead.
7:22AM ( 4 hours ago )