Fla. school shooting suspect indicted on 17 counts of murder

Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is reportedly willing to plead guilty if he can avoid a death penalty.
MIKE STOCKER/POOL/European Pressphoto Agency/Shutterstock
Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is reportedly willing to plead guilty if he can avoid a death penalty.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was formally charged Wednesday with 17 counts of first-degree murder, which could mean a death sentence if he is convicted.

The indictment returned by a grand jury in Fort Lauderdale also charges the 19-year-old with 17 counts of attempted murder for the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in which 17 people died and more than a dozen others were wounded.

Cruz’s public defender has said he will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table, which would mean a life prison sentence. The Broward County state attorney has not announced a decision on the death penalty.


James and Kimberly Snead, the couple who gave Cruz a home after his mother died late last year, testified before the grand jury Wednesday. Both James Snead and the couple’s attorney, Jim Lewis, wore silver ‘‘17’’ pins to honor the victims of the shooting.

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The couple is ‘‘trying to do the right thing’’ and is mourning along with the rest of the Parkland community, Lewis said.

‘‘We’ll let justice take its course at this point,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘They still don’t know what happened, why this happened. They don’t have any answers. They feel very badly for everybody.’’

Cruz told investigators he took an AR-15 rifle to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day and started shooting into classrooms.

Jail records released by the Broward sheriff’s office show Cruz was being held in solitary confinement. Officers described Cruz as being cooperative but avoiding eye contact.


The report said Cruz ‘‘often sits with a blank stare,’’ appeared to laugh and exhibited ‘‘awkward’’ behavior during and after a visit with an attorney and had one ‘‘family visit.’’ Officers said Cruz also requested a Bible to read in his single-person cell in the infirmary.

In Tallahassee, the Florida House on Wednesday passed a school safety bill that includes new restrictions on rifle sales and a program to arm some teachers.

The House voted, 67 to 50, on a bill that has already cleared the Senate and now goes to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

The vote reflected a mix of Republicans and Democrats in support and opposition. Even supporters said they didn’t like some aspects of the bill.

The legislation would put some restrictions on rifle sales, provide new mental health programs for schools and improve communication between school districts, law enforcement, and state agencies.


Democrats’ efforts failed Tuesday to strip the bill of language that would create a program to arm some teachers and school employees who complete law enforcement training.

Two parents who lost children in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings told reporters that all the families of Parkland victims wanted the legislation to succeed.

Andrew Pollack, who lost his 18-year-old daughter Meadow, and Ryan Petty, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, said there was enough good in the bill that it should pass.

Florida’s two US senators also want to give states federal incentives to adopt laws that let law enforcement or family members seek restraining orders to disarm people seen as a threat to themselves and others. Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson proposed the legislation in response to the fatal shooting in Parkland. They are urging their party leaders to let it get a vote on the Senate floor now without tying it to broader measures, such as expanded background checks or raising age limits for buying some firearms.

After visiting the Parkland school Wednesday, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she wants to hear suggestions to improve school safety from students who survived the shooting.

DeVos told reporters that arming some teachers should be considered an option but not a requirement. As a model, she cited a program in Florida’s Polk County where teachers or other employees at two private universities have trained with the sheriff’s office so they can carry concealed weapons on campus.

The Sun Sentinel reported a second student injured in the shooting has filed a letter of intent to sue the Broward sheriff’s office, the school system, and others. Doctors said one bullet tore through 15-year-old Kyle Laman’s ankle and foot, according to a statement from The Berman Law Group, which is representing the teenager.

‘‘Kyle is still dealing with memories of the terror he felt when his classroom was locked and he was stuck in the hallway during the shooting,’’ the statement said.

Separately, 15-year-old Anthony Borges and his parents have notified county officials of their plan to sue. Anthony was shot five times in his legs and torso and remains hospitalized, his attorney, Alex Arreaza, said.

About 60 Marjory Stoneman Douglas students on Wednesday toured the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, which commemorates the deadliest act of terrorism on US soil.

The high school’s wind symphony planned the museum visit months ago, after getting invited to perform in a high school band showcase Tuesday at Carnegie Hall. But the visit took on a deeper personal dimension after the school attack.