Hunt for clues in school massacre that left students, parents struggling for answers

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    Students, parents and faculty at South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School struggled today to fathom why a former student allegedly opened fire there Wednesday, killing 17 people, as law enforcement officials searched for clues and the school district denied suggestions that it had been warned.

    “Everybody started running up the stairs,” student Kelsey Friend told “Good Morning America” today. “I was being shoved and then I started hearing gunshots.

    “I had talked to my teacher and said, ‘I am scared,’ and then we heard gunshots and he unlocked the door and let us in,” she continued, referring to her teacher.

    “I had thought he was behind me. … But he wasn’t,” Friend said, crying.

    “When he opened the door, he had to re-lock it so we can stay safe. And he didn’t get the chance to,” Friend said, noting that her teacher was lying on the floor.

    Besides the 17 killed, more than a dozen others were injured, some critically.

    Authorities arrested 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman over disciplinary problems, in the aftermath of what has become the deadliest school shooting since an attack on an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

    He had been barred from carrying a backpack on campus before the expulsion, according to law enforcement sources.

    Cruz — who took an Uber to the school on Valentine’s Day, according to Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie — slipped away from the campus by blending in with other students who were trying to escape, police said. He was later apprehended.

    The school had “received no warning, no hints, no tips” about the suspected shooter, Runcie told ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV.

    After the suspect stormed the school, smoke from the gunfire set off the fire alarm, according to the superintendent.

    The suspect had an AR-15-style rifle that had apparently been legally purchased, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.

    Jim Lewis, the attorney for the family that took Cruz in, said the family knew the suspect had an AR-15 but that it was “in a locked gun safe.”

    This family took Cruz, who was good friends with their son, into their home after his mother died last November, Lewis said.

    “They’re hurt and shocked,” Lewis said. “They’re just like everybody else, trying to make some sense of this and trying to figure out why.”

    President Donald Trump tweeted this morning there were “many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed.”

    Though the shooter had been expelled, the president said such behavior must be reported “again and again.”

    Student Dakota Mutchler, 17, said he knew the suspect but had stopped speaking to him when Cruz began to display violence toward others.

    Cruz would often post videos on social media of his killing or harming animals, Mutchler said, adding that Cruz also once threatened a female friend of his.

    “Everyone in school, like those that knew him, speculated about him,” Mutchler continued. “He got suspended a lot of times and he sold knives in his lunch boxes and he was expelled, but no one expected him to come back and shoot. He started progressively getting a little more weird and I kind of cut off from him because I felt like he was a bad influence on me.”

    Others students on the scene who knew Cruz described him as someone with a penchant for weapons and violence and that he’d talk about having “target practice in his backyard” with a pellet gun.

    “He was in my class in seventh grade,” Gabrielle Pupo, a survivor of the attack, told reporters Wednesday night. “I knew he wasn’t OK when he punched the window in and said, ‘I’m going to cause karma one day,’ because he got in trouble with the teacher.”

    After the shooting, Pupo said the suspect “tried blending into the crowd and was talking to one of my friends as he was exiting.”

    “He was very focused on what he was doing,” she added.

    Cruz was booked into the Broward County Jail and charged with 17 counts of pre-meditated murder. Cruz has been answering investigators’ questions, two law enforcement sources told ABC News.

    Witnesses reported a barrage of gunfire around 2:40 p.m., near dismissal time. Video posted on social media showed students were fleeing from the shooting with their hands in the air. One student said he had to climb a fence to escape.

    “My teacher thought it was a firecracker, but then a gunshot went off again, so I started running out of my class,” a student, who only gave his first name, Amar, said in a Instagram post.

    He said his teacher tried to usher him back into the classroom, but he was afraid of getting trapped in the building.

    “I couldn’t. I had to go,” he said. “I jumped the gate as quick as I can.”

    Students and parents were still close to the scene at the large high school several hours after the shooting, waiting for updates from police. Some were seen kneeling and crying while others held pictures of missing classmates.

    Victoria Olvera, a 17-year-old senior, said she was also looking for two friends who went missing after the tragedy.

    “We called her family and they don’t know, either,” Olvera said, holding up a picture of a “close friend” believed to be in the freshman building when the shooting happened. “It’s not real. It doesn’t feel real at all.”

    The school will be closed the rest of the week, and grief counselors will be made available for students beginning this morning, officials said.

    The FBI has encouraged anyone with potentially useful pictures or videos of the incident to upload them online.

    ABC News’ Josh Margolin, Rachel Katz, Matt Foster and Courtney Han contributed to this report.

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