President Donald Trump said on Twitter there were “many signs” the alleged gunman accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was “mentally disturbed.”
On Thursday, the president wrote that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, was a “big problem” who should have been reported to police.
“So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior,” Trump tweeted. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
His words received some blowback from users on Twitter, who questioned why the president was possibly finding fault with neighbors and classmates and did not mention stricter gun laws. Many users cited the Obama-era regulation Trump rolled back last February that had made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.
So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2018
Trump has not yet spoken publicly about the shooting, which is among the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history and the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. In the first 45 days of 2018 alone, it’s the 18th school shooting, according to gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, and the eighth shooting that has resulted in injury or death.
The president tweeted Wednesday he had spoken with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and was “working closely with law enforcement on the terrible Florida school shooting.”
“My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting,” Trump also tweeted. “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
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Parkland mayor Christine Hunschofsky reacted in real time to this tweet while chatting with CNN, telling the outlet, “If a solution were simple for these things, we would have found one already.”
“I don’t think there’s one solution. I think it takes many people and many different avenues to come to a solution. Hopefully we never see one of these tragedies happen again in our country,” Hunschofsky said. “I’m going to be more vigilant. I’m going to talk to our residents, neighbors, friends to be more vigilant. And ask our kids when they see something on social media, to go to their parents. We’re a safe place to talk about it and discuss it.”
Parkland, Florida Mayor Christine Hunschofsky responds to President Trump’s tweet about yesterday’s shooting at a school in her city: “If a solution were simple for these things, we would have found one already” https://t.co/25JCh7rVKc https://t.co/dotbqwr0b8
— New Day (@NewDay) February 15, 2018
The suspect, a former student of the school who got expelled for disciplinary reasons, was taken into custody “without incident” on Wednesday by Coconut Creek police.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said 12 people were killed within the school building, two people were killed just outside the building, one person was killed on a nearby street corner and two people died in the hospital.
Fourteen victims remained at area hospitals as of Wednesday evening, according to The News Tribune. Dr. Evan Boyar told reporters Wednesday that eight victims and the suspect had been brought to Broward Health North, where two victims died, three were in critical condition and three were in stable condition. The suspect was later released into police custody.
Israel said officials have begun to “dissect” social media sites related to the suspect, and that “some of the things that have come to mind are very disturbing.”
The suspect was known for sharing pictures of weapons on social media, CNN reports, and posted threatening comments on YouTube videos such as “I whana shoot people with my AR-15” (sic), “I wanna die Fighting killing s- ton of people” and “I am going to kill law enforcement one day they go after the good people.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a news conference Wednesday night that the attack “is just absolutely pure evil.”
The suspect‘s mother, Lynda Cruz, died on Nov. 1 from the flu and pneumonia. His father had died over a decade ago from a heart attack, so Lynda’s cousin Kathie Blaine said the teen was “on his own.”
“He is 19. He was an adult on his own,” she said, according to CNN. “It’s really at this point, I don’t understand it anymore than anyone else does. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe any of these school shootings. I never met him.”
CNN reports the suspect had been living with a friend who attended the high school and his family since his mother’s death.
Student Jordyn Laudanno, 17, tells PEOPLE all she knew about the gunman was that he had been expelled last year.
“He was a very weird kid he wasn’t allowed to bring a backpack to school when he was here because he brought knives,” she says. “And he had this obsession with guns. People used to joke that, ‘if someone shot up the school, it would be him.’ I have no idea why no one spoke out about it, this could have been prevented.”
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As to his state of mind, Laudanno says friends of hers who attended the funeral for the suspect’s mom said “he didn’t seem like he completely lost it or anything.” She adds, “nothing ever, ever would be a good enough reason for what he did. There’s no words for what he deserves.”
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Authorities allege the suspect “concealed himself in the crowd and was among those running out of the school.”
Investigators had to comb through security footage to identify the suspect, which led to his arrest in a nearby neighborhood of Coral Springs, Florida, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The suspect has not yet entered a plea and is due to make a court appearance Thursday.