An American nightmare unfolded Wednesday afternoon at a South Florida high school after police say an expelled teenager returned to campus and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing 17 and wounding 16 more in the worst school shooting in Florida history.
Just before dismissal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, thousands of students puzzled at the sound of a fire alarm were launched into a panic when gunfire punctuated the din. As teachers and students fled through hallways and hid under desks, a gunman opened fire, leaving a trail of bodies and stunned confusion in his wake.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office said Nikolas Cruz, 19, walked the halls of the high school wielding an AR-15 and equipped with multiple magazines. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida told reporters that Cruz pulled a fire alarm and then, wearing a gas mask, began tossing smoke bombs and shooting people as they ran through the haze.
Police say Cruz gunned down a dozen people inside buildings on the school’s sprawling campus, two more on the grounds, and one more on the corner of Pine Island Road as he fled. Two more died at the hospital. Many underwent surgery at Broward Health hospitals.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office said the school, home to about 3,200 students, had been cleared by early evening. They did not identify any victims.
“It’s a day that you pray, every day when you get up, that you will never have to see. It is in front of us. I ask the community for prayers and their support for the children and their families,” Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, appearing at a media staging area near the school, told WSVN-TV. “Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”
The shooter, identified by Sheriff Scott Israel as Cruz, managed to make it off campus before he was cornered and taken into custody near the community entrance to Pelican Pointe at Wyndham Lakes in Coral Springs. He was transported to Broward Health North, and then sped away from the hospital in a police escort.
Israel, whose triplets once attended the high school, called the shooting a “detestable act” and “catastrophic.”
He did not name a motive for the shooting, which he said doesn’t immediately appear to have been prompted by any confrontation.
Nor did he explain why Cruz, known by other students as a loner infatuated with guns and knives, was expelled from school beyond saying that it was for disciplinary reasons.
A teacher at the school told the Miami Herald that Cruz, 19, had been identified as a potential threat to fellow students in the past. Math teacher Jim Gard said he believed the school administration had sent out an email warning teachers that Cruz had made threats against other teenagers in the past. Another student interviewed by the Herald said Cruz was punished once for having bullet casings at school.
“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” said Gard, who said Cruz had been in his class last year. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”
The shooting began just before dismissal, after Cruz pulled the fire alarm. Students and teachers were puzzled because the school had already held a fire drill that day. Still, some left their bags by their desk and walked out of their classrooms.
Then the shots started.
“Six kids ran back into my room, and I locked the door, turned out the lights and had the kids go to the back of the room,” Gard said. “I told the kids to hang in there, it may still be a drill.”
Nicholas Coke, who was sitting in English class when the fire alarm went off, described people jumping fences, running behind the middle school and staying in classrooms to cower and pray after gunshots went off. Some students took photos and posted video to social media.
“I wasn’t going to stick around and find out what was going on,” he said.
A video posted to social media showed students hiding under desks, screaming as at least 20 gun shots rang out. Some students believed there was a second shooter at the school, but the Broward Sheriff’s Office gave no indication that was the case.
On the first floor, Geovanni Vilsant, 15, said he was in a Spanish classroom when a fire alarm went off, urging all the students out of their classrooms. Then, two minutes later, gun shots rang out enveloping the three-floor building in explosions.
Geovanni, a freshman, said he saw three bloody bodies on the floor as he was fleeing the school.
“There was blood everywhere,” he said. “They weren’t moving.”
His elder brother, who jumped a fence and sought refuge in a nearby neighborhood, ran back around to try to find Geovanni.
“I had to go back for him,” Bradley Vilsant said from a nearby Walmart where the brothers fled with about 100 other students.
Some at the school said a football coach and security guard, Aaron Feis, was shot when he jumped in front of several students, although that report remains unconfirmed.
As students hid and escaped, SWAT teams swarmed the sprawling campus. The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, consisting of local, state and federal agents, sent a squad to the school to assist the Broward Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement.
Initially, they urged teachers and students to remain barricaded inside until police reached them. Eventually, they began clearing buildings one at a time. Students streamed out in a line with their hands up. Others ran like mad, bookbags strapped to their backs.
Federal authorities said they don’t believe the high school shootings are related to terrorism.
Worried parents trying to find their children stood by helpless. Authorities designated pick up for students at North Heron Bay Marriott, South at Betty Stradling Park.
Parents, some of whom were still searching for their kids after 8 p.m., stood about a mile away as police blocked them from getting closer to their children.
Many spoke on their cellphones trying to calm their children down.
Jenny Carhart woke up in the middle of the night Nov. 8 to an unintentional punch in the face from her husband, Brian.
A heart attack was causing his body to convulse and his arm to piston outward.
Panicking and scared, Jenny called 911.
Jenny had never performed CPR on anyone—or even taken classes to learn how.
The 911 operator, Amanda Johnson, had never guided anyone doing CPR before. Still, she was able to help Jenny by making a tapping sound on the phone to mark time between chest compressions, Jenny recalled.
“Tap, press, tap, press” over and over.
“Minutes seem like hours” during a heart attack, Brian said.
The Carharts shared their story Wednesday during an open house at Mercyhealth Heart and Vascular Center in Janesville.
In honor of February as Heart Month, Mercyhealth invited heart attack and stroke survivors for a healthy lunch to celebrate their heart health accomplishments.
Stephanie Kittleson, manager of cardiac rehabilitation at Mercyhealth, said sharing stories can help people heal.
Healing after a heart attack or surgery has both physical and mental aspects, she said. The cardiac staff wanted the event to provide a larger support system for those who are healing.
All of the people who attended Wednesday’s open house had suffered heart events within the last year, according to a news release.
In her bedroom, Jenny continued CPR until the Janesville Fire Department arrived and hooked Brian up to a defibrillator. They transported him to Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, where he was treated, Jenny said.
The day leading up to his heart attack was as normal as any other day, Brian said. He didn’t remember experiencing any symptoms.
Brian believes his heart attack was caused by discontinuing medication he took after his first heart attack. That one woke him up in the middle of the night May 11, 2001.
He remembers Jenny taking him to the hospital, where he collapsed in the waiting room.
There was no single person who saved his life during either heart attack, Brian said, but if not for Jenny, he might not have made it to the hospital.
The Janesville natives have been together for 23 years and got married in July 2017, Jenny said.
They have a son, Kyle, who serves in the Army in Alaska.
With help from Mercyhealth and the American Red Cross, Kyle came home to help his mom while his dad recovered, Jenny said. It was a huge help having them there for support, Brian said.
Once Brian was back on his feet, the couple visited the fire department and Rock County Communications Center to thank the people who helped save Brian.
Brian said he realizes he is lucky to be alive. He believes he has a guardian angel.
The Carharts said they enjoyed hearing stories from fellow survivors Wednesday.
Kittleson said heart attack and heart disease survivors meet with doctors to manage their health long after they are released from the hospital.
To maintain a healthy heart, survivors often have to take medication, increase exercise, quit smoking, monitor glucose levels and take other precautions, Kittleson said.
Cardiac staff can do a lot to help survivors remain healthy, Kittleson said. The staff’s main goal is to empower patients to take control of their health and prevent another heart event from happening.
local • 3A, 6A
Board candidates profiled
Two candidates are looking to oust incumbent Kenneth Monroe for the Walworth County Board in District 10. Monroe has held the seat since 2012, and he’s looking to secure his third term. Part-time UW-Parkside professor Steven J. Doelder is trying to capture a spot in the general election. Also running is Susan Bernstein, a case manager for the Senior Community Service Employment Program in Delavan.
state • 2A
Walker confident of success
Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he’s confident that his legislative priorities, including a child tax rebate, overhaul of the juvenile justice system and new work requirements for food stamp recipients, will pass before the session ends next month. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reiterated concerns that the juvenile justice proposal was too much for the Legislature to get done this year.
Elkhorn wants podium finishes
Elkhorn’s boys swimmers admit just getting to the WIAA state meet last year was a thrill. One year later, the Elks are no longer just happy to be there. Five swimmers competing in nine events and all three relay teams will participate in Friday night’s WIAA Division 2 meet at the UW Natatorium. The team hopes some of those competitors can reach the podium with a top-six finish.
Driven by rising prices for drugs and medical services, the nation’s health care tab will continue to outpace economic growth over the next decade, according to a new government report.
And by 2026, health care spending will account for almost one-fifth of the U.S. economy, an all-time record.
The new report, which was prepared by independent economists at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is widely regarded as an important measure of the nation’s health care system, echoes many recent warnings about rising costs.
At the same time, the report underscores the increasing urgency of confronting the ever-growing burden that health care imposes on family checkbooks and government spending.
“High and rising costs expose two often overlooked problems,” Harvard economist David Cutler noted in an article accompanying the new spending projections, published in the journal Health Affairs.
“First, spending is too high because many dollars are wasted. … Second, high medical costs combined with stagnant incomes for a large share of the population and the inability of governments at all levels to raise tax dollars leads to increased health and economic disparities,” Cutler wrote.
The report indicates that the rate of rising costs has moderated somewhat compared to the years before the 2008 Great Recession.
From 1990 to 2007, health care spending increased 7.3 percent a year on average, far outpacing economic growth.
By contrast, annual spending is projected to increase 5.5 percent on average between 2017 and 2026, the report’s authors conclude.
But the future spending growth is considerably faster than in the decade following the recession, when costs increased 4.2 percent annually on average.
More worrisome, the annual growth rate over the next decade is expected to average one percentage point more than overall economic growth.
That means that health care will expand from about 17.9 percent of the economy in 2016 to 19.7 percent of the economy in 2026.
Some of the increase reflects the fact that the U.S. population is aging and will therefore require more medical care, the authors note.
Steady economic growth over the next decade will probably drive some increase in health spending, as has happened in previous economic expansions.
But the report concludes that the biggest drivers of rising spending are likely to be higher costs for care and, particularly, for prescription drugs. Spending on retail drugs is projected to increase 6.3 percent a year on average over the next decade.
The U.S. already has the highest medical prices in the world, research indicates.
And as public outrage over the price of prescription drugs and many medical services increases, there are growing calls by Democrats for more government regulation of prices, a practice common in other industrialized countries.
But Republicans oppose such efforts, instead backing plans to cut government health care assistance, which could restrain spending by making it more difficult for many patients to pay for medical care.