A cowering Nikolas Cruz was comforted by his public defender as he was ordered held without bail during his first court appearance in connection to the deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17 and injured 14.

The 19-year-old wore an orange jumpsuit and had shackles on his wrists and ankles as he was officially charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

He kept his eyes down and didn't speak in court today, other than to confirm his name with a polite "yes ma'am" to the judge, the Daily Mail reports.

His public defender, Melisa McNeil, comforted Nikolas Cruz by putting a hand around his shoulder. Photo / AP
His public defender, Melisa McNeil, comforted Nikolas Cruz by putting a hand around his shoulder. Photo / AP

His public defender, Melisa McNeill, comforted him by putting a hand around his shoulder.


After the hearing, Cruz's defence team revealed he was on suicide watch and that he understood the magnitude of his actions.

McNeill told reporters gathered outside the courtroom that her client was "broken".

"He's sad. He's mournful. He's remorseful. He is fully aware of what is going on, and he's just a broken human being," she said.

She became emotional while speaking to reporters, saying she's fully aware of the impact the shooting has had on the community, as a parent herself.

"I had to have the exact same conversation that every parent in Broward had to have with their children this morning, then I had to walk and meet with him," McNeill said.

"I'm fully aware of the impact this has on the people who live here."

According to her LinkedIn profile, McNeill has worked in the homicide division of the Broward public defender's office since 2000.

Another member of the defence team, Gordon Weeks, was brought to tears as he addressed reporters, telling them that Cruz "recognises" what he has done and is "deeply sad".


"He is dealing with the shock of all this that's going on," Weeks said.

McNeill and Weeks said that Cruz suffers from autism, depression and has dealt with significant psychological problems - all without the sort of support system that most people have.

"When your brain is not fully developed, you don't know how to deal with these things," McNeill said. "That's the child I'm sitting across from."

Weeks added: "The child is deeply troubled and he has endured significant trauma that stems from the loss of his mother."

Florida Attorney-General Pam Bondi has said she is "certain" prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty for the teen.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel revealed that Cruz had tried to mix with a group of students fleeing the school before stopping at fast food restaurants after the attack.

A video monitor shows school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, center, making an appearance before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica in Broward County Court. Photo / AP
A video monitor shows school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, center, making an appearance before Judge Kim Theresa Mollica in Broward County Court. Photo / AP

The sheriff said Cruz headed to a Wal-Mart and bought a drink at a Subway restaurant before walking to a McDonald's. Cruz was confronted by a police officer and taken into custody about 40 minutes after leaving McDonald's.

Cruz was initially taken to the hospital to be treated for "laboured breathing".

He was soon released to the police who spent most of the night questioning Cruz, trying to make sense of the horrific school shooting - now the third deadliest in American history.

The fact that it was the 30th mass shooting so far this year has spurred activists to call on Congress again to revamp the nation's gun control policies.

President Trump, a staunch defender of the National Rifle Association, said at a press conference that the real issue lawmakers need to tackle is mental health, not guns.

Meanwhile, details are starting to emerge about the shooter, who was recently orphaned, stopped getting mental health treatment about a year ago and had ties to a white supremacist group.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School painted the picture of a weird and disturbed teen who sold knives out of a lunchbox, bragged about killing animals and was finally kicked out of school for fighting and carrying bullets in his backpack.

An FBI official also said that they were warned - not once, but twice - about the shooter. One of the warnings came in September, from a bail bondsman in Mississippi who alerted them about an alarming online message Cruz wrote saying he was "going to be a professional school shooter".

Ben Bennight says he alerted the FBI to a comment Cruz shared on one of his YouTube videos in September. He says the FBI was quick to respond to the statement, arriving at his office the very next day to find out if he knew anything about the young man.

He didn't hear from the FBI again until after the shooting on Wednesday. At a press conference, an FBI official said they followed up on the report but were "unable to further identify the person who made the comment".

Broward County Mayor Beam Furr also revealed that Cruz had been getting treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but hadn't been back to the clinic in more than a year.

"It wasn't like there wasn't concern for him," Furr told CNN. "We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren't connected. In this case we didn't find a way to connect with this kid."

Officials wouldn't say why exactly Cruz had been expelled, but fellow students said it was because he got into a fight with his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend and because he was caught with bullets in his backpack.

Authorities quickly started dissecting the shooter's social media accounts in a bid to piece together the motive. Sheriff Israel reported that some of things the shooter had been posting was "very disturbing".

In one Instagram post, Cruz posted a screengrab of Google search results for 'what does allahu akbar' mean. Allahu Akbar means "God is great" in Arabic, and is something Islamist terrorist often shout before attacks."

Cruz's Instagram is filled with disturbing posts of what appears to be himself showing off weapons, his face sometimes covered, along with other disturbing images and captions.
Cruz's Instagram is filled with disturbing posts of what appears to be himself showing off weapons, his face sometimes covered, along with other disturbing images and captions.

He captioned the photo: "Well at least we know what it means when a sand durka [a racial expletive for an Arab person] says 'allahu akbar' [laughing face emojis]."

ABC News reported that Cruz appeared to have ties to a white nationalist group called the Republic of Florida. A spokesman for the group confirmed Cruz was a member.

The group describes itself as a "white civil rights organisation fighting for white identitarian politics" and seeks to create a "white ethnostate" in Florida.

Group leader, Jordan Jereb, told the Anti-Defamation League that Cruz was brought into the group by another member and had participated in training exercises with the group.

Jereb said that Cruz was not ordered to do the shooting and said they were not a terrorist organisation.

He added to ABC News that he had not seen Cruz in "some time" but after the shooting on Wednesday "he knew he would be getting this call".

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

But a law enforcement official says he knows of "no known ties" between Cruz and the white supremacist group.

A terrifying snapchat video shows a classroom being pelted by bullets.

Lieutenant Grady Jordan says the Leon County Sheriff's Office in Tallahassee, where the group is based, has "very solid" information on the group and "there's no known ties" between Cruz and the group.

Cruz suffered a major blow in November when his adoptive mother Lynda Cruz, 68, died of pneumonia. Lynda was apparently the only person Cruz was close to.

Lynda and her husband, who died of a heart attack several years ago, adopted Cruz and and his brother Zachary, after the couple moved from Long Island, New York, to Broward County.

Cruz was an infant when he was adopted. It's unclear if he was adopted from the US or aboard. Adopted children from abroad sometimes have issues adjusting because of neglect in their orphanages, especially children from Russia.

"Lynda was very close to them," her sister-in-law Barbara Kumbatovic told the Washington Post. "She put a lot of time and effort into those boys, trying to give them a good life and upbringing."

Zachary was quiet and liked to stay indoors, but Cruz constantly got into trouble and appeared to have "emotional issues".

"Lynda dealt with it like most parents did. She was probably too good to him," Kumbatovic said. "She was a lovely woman. She was a hard-working woman. She made a beautiful home for them. She put a lot of effort and time into their schooling, their recreation, whatever they needed. She was a good parent. And she went over and above because she needed to compensate for being a single parent."

She added: "I don't think it had anything to do with his upbringing. It could have been the loss of his mom. I don't know."

Longtime Cruz family neighbours Malcolm and Christine Roxburgh told the Sun Sentinel that the police came to the boy's house many times, as he used to get in trouble and harass people. He didn't have an arrest record though.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arrested after he stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday afternoon armed with an assault rifle.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arrested after he stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday afternoon armed with an assault rifle.

Malcolm Roxburgh said a neighbour across the street kept pigs, and Nicolas Cruz targeted the family.

"He didn't like the pigs and didn't like the neighbours, so he sent his dog over there to try to attack them," Roxburgh said. Another neighbour, Shelby Speno, said she once saw Cruz shooting at chickens owned by another resident.

Christine Roxburgh said she once caught Cruz peeking in her window.

"I said, 'What are you doing here?' He said he was looking for golf balls. I said, 'This isn't the golf course','' she said.

And, the couple said, when the boy didn't want to go to school, he would bang his head against a cement wall. They were scared of him. "He could have killed any of us," Christine Roxburgh said.

After their mother's death, the boys were left in the care of a family friend - but Cruz didn't stay there very long.

Unhappy there, Cruz asked to move in with a friend at a mobile home park in northwest Broward. The friend's family agreed and Cruz moved into his own room in the home around Thanksgiving.

"The family brought him into their home," the family's attorney, Jim Lewis, said.

"They got him a job at a local dollar store. They didn't see anything that would suggest any violence. He was depressed, maybe a little quirky. But they never saw anything violent. He was just a little depressed and seemed to be working through it."

Cruz brought his AR-15 rifle with him to the family's home, where it was kept in a locked cabinet that the teen had a key to.

Sources told CNN that the gunman bought the rifle in the past year and passed a required background check to obtain it. Two federal law enforcement officials said the Smith & Wesson M&P rifle was bought legally at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Coral Springs, Florida. Federal law allows people 18 and over to buy long guns. At 21, people can legally buy handguns from a licensed dealer.

While living with the family, Lewis started going to a school for at-risk youth. Usually every morning, the father of the family would drive Cruz to school, but on Wednesday he overslept and then gave a cryptic reason why.

"He said, 'It's Valentine's Day and I don't go to school on Valentine's Day,''' Lewis said.

Lewis said the family is devastated and didn't see this coming. The family's son was a junior at the school and was there when the shooting happened. Lewis said the family is cooperating and no one there is suspected of wrongdoing, he added.

The family's cream-coloured home was empty Thursday morning but in the backyard a bullet-riddled Bud Light can was stuck on a twig of an avocado tree overlooking a creek.

A paper plate, apparently a shooting target, was on another tree.

Few people on the Lantana Cascades estate speak English. One neighbour who would not give his name said he only met Cruz once when the people in the house introduced him.

"He seemed like a nice kid but it was only the once," the elderly man said. "Then he was gone. I never saw him again."

The backyard of the home on Easter Cay Way is littered with garden furniture and toys. Eerily, a Hot Wheels toy in a container is still beeping. A tan Kia Soul stands in the driveway.

Another neighbour, whose house on a neighboring street overlooks the home where Cruz had been staying, described Wednesday night on Lantana Cascades as "a madhouse".

"Dozens of police came. It was shortly after 5pm.

"They taped two whole streets off and made those nearest the house get out. I stayed though.

"I saw them go in and bring a lot of stuff out, but it was dark so I couldn't see what."

Students called Cruz "weird" and a "loner" - even those who'd been friendly with him said they hadn't seen him in more than a year since his expulsion.

Dakota Mutchler, 17, recalled Cruz posting on Instagram about killing animals and said he had talked about doing target practice in his backyard with a pellet gun.

"He started going after one of my friends, threatening her, and I cut him off from there," Mutchler said.

He said students weren't surprised officials had identified Cruz as the shooter: "I think everyone had in their minds if anybody was going to do it, it was going to be him."

Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old junior at the school, 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 his girlfriend. Another student said that part of the reason Cruz was expelled was that he was caught carrying bullets in his backpack.

Matthew Walker, a 17-year-old student at the school, told WFOR-TV that all his classmates "knew it was going to be him".

"A lot of people were saying it was going to be him," he said. "A lot of kids threw jokes around saying that he was going to be the one to shoot up the school. It turns out that everyone predicted it. That's crazy.

"He was going class to class just shooting at random kids," he said. "Everything he posts [on social media] is about weapons. It's sick."

One teacher said he had been identified as a potential threat to his classmates last year.

Math teacher Jim Gard, who taught Cruz last year, told the Miami Herald: "We were told last year that he wasn't allowed on campus with a backpack on him. There were problems with him last year threatening students and I guess he was asked to leave campus."

Another student took to social media claiming Cruz had mental health issues that were "ignored by all the adults".

"He literally had an Instagram where he posted pictures of animals he killed gruesomely and he physically assaulted one of my friends once," the student added.

Another student, who was not identified, but claims to know Cruz, told WSVN he was obsessed with guns and showed him pictures of them on his phone.

"He's been a troubled kid and he's always had a certain amount of issues going on. He shot guns because he felt it gave him, I guess, an exhilarating feeling."

He added that Cruz made him nervous.

"I stayed clear of him most of the time. My time in alternate school, I did not want to be with him at all because I didn't want to cause any conflict with him because of the impression he gave off."

Former classmate Joshua Charo, 16, told the Miami Herald that all Cruz "would talk about is guns, knives and hunting".

"I can't say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this," Charo said.

"He used to tell me he would shoot rats with his BB gun and he wanted this kind of gun, and how he liked to always shoot for practice," Charo added.

One student added that Cruz started selling knives out of a lunchbox when he started high school.

But Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie said 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."

As a high school freshman, Cruz was part of the US military-sponsored Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp programme at the school.

President Trump tweeted, saying there were signs that the shooter was "mentally disturbed".

He also entreated Americans to report similar people to the authorities.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior.

"Neighbours and classmates knew he was such a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!" he wrote.

Trump has cited mental health before as a cause for mass shootings, dismissing questions about gun control.

Trump spoke later in the morning about the shooting at a press conference from the White House.

Taking up the now-familiar ritual of public consolation after terrible violence, Trump spoke from the White House Diplomatic Room. In a slow, deliberate style, he sought to reassure a troubled nation as well as students' families and shooting survivors in Florida.

"We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also," Trump said. "No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school."

Trump, who owns a private club in Palm Beach, Florida about 65km from the town of Parkland, where the shooting happened, said Thursday he was making plans to visit the grieving community.

He did not answer questions about guns as he exited the room.

When the shooting broke out at 2.25pm, some students 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 Wednesday afternoon shortly before they were to be dismissed, they once again filed out into the hallways.

That's when police say Cruz, equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple 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.

"Our district is in a tremendous state of grief and sorrow," said Robert Runcie, superintendent of the Parkland school district. "It is a horrible day for us."

Police arrived at the scene to find hundreds of students fleeing the school. They later learned the shooter had concealed himself in the crowd and was among those running off the campus.

Investigators were able to identify him after trawling surveillance video. He was arrested about an hour after the shooting first broke out when police cornered him in a nearby neighbourhood. He had multiple magazines of ammunition on him, authorities said.

"It's catastrophic. There really are no words," said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

A local politician told DailyMail.com that the high school has high-definition surveillance cameras that captured every single shot by Cruz and authorities are poring through them now.

The cameras allegedly picked up Cruz walking across the empty parking lot toward the school carrying his rifle, as classes were in session.

The two school resource officers, from the Broward County Sheriff's Office, are supposed to monitor the perimeter.

DailyMail.com asked the sheriff's office for comment, but they did not respond.

The scene was reminiscent of the Newtown attack, which shocked even a country numbed by the regularity of school shootings. The December 14, 2012, assault at Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 26 people: 20 first-graders and six staff members. The 20-year-old gunman, who also fatally shot his mother in her bed, then killed himself.

Not long after Wednesday's attack in Florida, Michael Nembhard was sitting in his garage on a cul-de-sac when he saw a young man in a burgundy shirt walking down the street. In an instant, a police cruiser pulled up, and officers jumped out with guns drawn.

"All I heard was 'Get on the ground! Get on the ground!'' Nembhard said. He said Cruz did as he was told.

Florida Governor Rick Scott joined law enforcement agents near the site of the deadly school shooting on Wednesday night and offered his condolences to the victims' families and survivors.

Scott said that he couldn't imagine what the families of the victims are going through. He also said he would be visiting hospitalised survivors.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said the state would cover funeral expenses for the victims and counselling for survivors.

The school will be closed for the rest of the week.

South Florida remained on edge on Thursday. Miami's main criminal courthouse building was put on lockdown after an unspecified threat was reported, Miami-Dade County's state attorney said on Twitter.

Another Broward school briefly also went on lockdown after reports of a shooting, which turned out to be unfounded, local media reported.

A law enforcement officer is assigned to every school in the Broward County district, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High board member Donna Korn told a local newspaper. The sheriff's office also provides active shooter training and schools have a single point of entry, she said.

"We have prepared the campuses, but sometimes people still find a way to let these horrific things happen," Korn said.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is in Parkland - Florida's safest city last year.

It's also a lucrative area to live because the schools are so good.

The incident comes just a few weeks after a 15-year-old boy opened fire at his rural Kentucky high school, killing two and injuring more than two dozen others.

It's the 30th mass shooting of the year and the third-deadliest school shooting in American history, behind Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.