This article has been updated:

Near the close of the school day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, north of Miami, Florida, at least 14 people were wounded in a mass shooting on Wednesday. Authorities did not confirm immediately how many persons were killed by the lone gunman who opened fire at approximately 3:00 p.m. local time. However, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed during an evening press conference that 17 people perished in the attack. Twelve died within the school, two just outside the building, one victim was killed on a street near the school, while two more died in hospital. An AR-15 style rifle was recovered at the scene, as well as several magazines.


At least one school official suggested that mental issues may be at the root of such mass murders.

The gunman, who managed to evade capture at first, was eventually arrested without incident and is now in custody. 

The alleged shooter has been identified as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student of the high school. There are reports that he had been identified as a potential threat to students in the past. According to the Miami Herald, mathematics teach Jim Gard said, "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." Gard taught Cruz last year. Cruz was expelled for as yet unexplained disciplinary reasons. A comment on Facebook identified Cruz as a former JROTC member.

In 2017, someone bearing the name Nikolas Cruz commented on a YouTube video about another mass murder. In a post about Charles Whitman -- the shooter of the early 1960s who shot students to death on the campus of the University of Texas -- "Nikolas Cruz" wrote: "I am going to what he did." Subsequently, a report was made to the FBI about the post. In a similar post on social media, someone bearing the "Nikolas Cruz" handle wrote: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie, however, told reporters that he did not know of any concerns raised about Cruz. “We received no warnings,” Runcie told reporters outside the school. “Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn't have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.” Hours after the shooting, Runcie told reporters, "We cannot live in a world that is built on fear." He added, “We have to do what we can to make sure we provide the greatest safety measures we can for our kids." He went on to say, “But what I'll tell you is: Mental health issues in this country are growing. And they're a big challenge.” Runcie continued, “And they're something that is certainly going to need to be addressed within our school systems, as well as in the broader society —to ensure that these kind of tragedies do not continue."

A teacher at the school said he believes that school administrators had sent out email warnings about Cruz concerning threats he had allegedly made against others. A student interviewed by WSVN-7 news claimed that Cruz owned guns and spoke about using them. 

Rep. Ted Deutch (D), who represents the Broward County area, said that the daughter of one of his staff members managed to survive the attack. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said he believed that there are a number of fatalities. A student recorded horrific scenes as the shooter fired near a classroom full of children.

Video coverage of the incident showed police wearing tactical gear entering the high school with weapons draw. Dozens of school children could be seen running away from the school and to safety. Some of them were seen leaving the school in single file with their hands raised to show they were unarmed. Emergency medical responders were seen wheeling at least one person into an ambulance on a gurney. 

Children were directed to a nearby Marriott hotel to be reunited with their families. The Coral Springs police department tweeted "We understand you are worried for your children." Police are searching the school for any other possible shooters, or for frightened children. 

President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that "no child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school." Commenting in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said, "We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else." 

Caesar Figueroa told CBS News that his daughter heard gunfire and then witnessed a window breaking. His daughter ran into a closet to hide with a friend. According to Figueroa, three students were shot in his daughter’s classroom. 

Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie said in a news conference that issues related to mental health must be addressed while assessing the shooting and the motivations of the shooter. 


The origins of mass murder

Author and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, who has frequently locked horns with government authorities and leftists in his native Canada over issues related to free speech and crime, has frequently offered analyses of criminal acts. In a lecture at the University of Toronto, Peterson sought to analyze the minds of several notable mass murderers. 

Describing one of the two killers held responsible for the mass murder at the high school in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999, Peterson said that killer Dylan Klebold had brooded on his “isolation, his segregation from mankind. He’s out there in a chaotic domain, and because he is tortured by that, his thoughts take an unbelievably dark turn.” Peterson also described Carl Panzram, a child of German immigrants who had his beginnings as a juvenile delinquent and went on to become one of the worst serial killers in U.S. history. Panzram claimed to have raped more than 1,000 men and committed at least 21 murders, one of which was of a child. Peterson said that Panzam committed these acts, “clearly and with malevolent intent.” Panzram wrote a book to boast of his claims.

Disputing the notion that many people have that most people have “good intentions,” Peterson asserted that “many people have very dark intentions that a fully conscious and very well elaborated. Panzram was no fool: he was smart. His book was very well written. It’s a good glimpse of exactly this sort of thing when you can get to by brooding on your specific misfortune.”

Describing Panzram’s motivations, Peterson said, “His basic credo was that human beings were so reprehensible that they should be eliminated. Believe me, that’s what he was trying to do. People who do terrible things, like the Columbine shooters, that’s -- for lack of a better word -- what they’re possessed by.”

Peterson explained that the Columbine shooters had planned an even more spectacular crime and knew full well that there would be widespread media coverage. “The people who engage in these kinds of mass murders, they know about the other mass murderers and are engaged in a competition as to who can do the most brutal thing and the fastest, something like that. So you can be thinking about just people with good intentions that somehow have gone wrong. If you ever meet someone who is like that, and you think that, you’re just a tree with ripe fruit to be plucked.”



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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