FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Students and teachers who survived a Florida high school massacre told investigators how they watched classmates die, had bullets whiz past them and huddled in fear until they were rescued by police, in some of the most dramatic records released so far from the mass shooting.
Prosecutors released the statements Friday from the Feb. 14 shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman killed 17 people. The redacted statements are the latest evidence released under Florida law that makes it a public record when it is turned over to defense attorneys.
Students and teachers described classmates being shot and dying in front of them, and bullets shattering glass, destroying computers and slamming into walls. They talked of hiding in terror until they were rescued and then walking over dead bodies as police evacuated them from the building. Others described watching in puzzlement as the 19-year-old suspect Nickolas Cruz walked past among evacuating students, knowing he had been kicked out of Stoneman Douglas a year earlier, and troubling and racist encounters they’d had with him before the shooting.
These are some of their stories. Some student names in the report are redacted and others are not, but The Associated Press is not naming any students as they are juveniles.
The shooter, using a high-powered AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, started firing in a first-floor hallway of the Stoneman Douglas freshman building near where a ninth-grade girl was sitting in class writing an essay on her laptop.
A member of the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, she heard two loud bangs but thought they were Valentine’s Day balloons popping. She and her teacher exchanged a reassuring look but about 10 seconds later a bullet game through the door and shattered her computer screen. Another bullet grazed her arm and another went through her shirt.
“That’s when everyone starting freaking out and the teacher started screaming, saying to take cover,” the girl said. She said everyone tried to hide behind the teacher’s desk but there wasn’t enough room.
She said she ran back to her desk, grabbed her phone and called 911. She said a girl who was standing got hit in the chest and slid down the wall. She said a boy shot in the chest clung to a desk hyperventilating but soon went limp. Another boy was shot in the head, but he never lost consciousness — she used part of her JROTC shirt to apply pressure to his wound.
Police soon arrived in the room and as she and her classmates were escorted out, leaving behind the boy, the girl and another girl who had died. She saw five or six more bodies in the hall.
An algebra teacher on the second floor said she was walking toward a sneezing student when she recognized gunshots in the hall and immediately called a “Code Red” — an active shooter alert — in her class. She said had placed tape on her classroom’s floor marking off the section that couldn’t be seen from the window in the door and the students knew to dash to that part.
She heard more and more gunshots and gathered her students close to her, playing with girls’ hair and telling the students she could hear help coming to try to calm them. The fire alarm then went off, but she wasn’t about to evacuate her room. That saved her students because she thinks she saw the shooter go past the window. Many who died were on the third floor and were in the hallway evacuating when the gunman came up the stairwell and mowed them down.
She said one “very strong young man” placed himself against the wall and was going to be the class’s “hero,” charging the gunman if he got into the room. But when the door opened it was police officers, who led them out.
One student who knew Cruz said she was standing on the athletic field after being evacuated when she saw him in the crowd. She said that struck her as strange because he had been kicked out of Stoneman Douglas a year earlier.
“I didn’t know what he was doing there,” she said.
Another said he spoke briefly to Cruz at the nearby Walmart where evacuated students were taken.
“I said like I thought you got expelled last year. And he’s like no the school took me back in,” he said, adding that he believed him. “He was pretty scared. He was like all terrified.” Later, he lost sight of Cruz and didn’t see him again.
The boy said also said he had known Cruz during his sophomore year, and that Cruz often would talk about violence and bring knives and bullets to school. He also brought dead animals in bags. “He used to show everyone, ’Oh, look I’m so proud of the killing.”
He also said Cruz made racist remarks about Jews and blacks, and drew Nazi symbols. He said he agreed with Hitler that “all Jews were dead and stuff.”
Cruz’s attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.