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Gunman In Florida High School Shooting Ordered Held Without Bond


It's been a little more than 24 hours since a 19-year-old man opened fire on his former classmates at a Florida high school, and an all-too-familiar cycle has begun. There are news conferences about the shooter, interviews with survivors and vigils like this one in Coral Springs, Fla., today.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lord, give them peace as they come to grips with this new reality, as they process the loss of so many of their precious kids and even their colleagues, as they have their own overwhelming moments of grief and anxiety and fear and sadness.

KELLY: In a moment, we'll hear how the weapon the killer used was the gun of choice in many recent mass shootings. First, though, to new court documents that show the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz, has confessed to the shooting. He faces 17 counts of premeditated murder. His first court appearance was today in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

NPR's Jeff Brady joins us from outside the Broward County courthouse. And, Jeff, you have been combing through these court documents. What are you finding?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Yeah, this is an affidavit. And in it, investigators say the accused confesses to the shootings during interviews with investigators. He has told those same investigators specifics about what he did and in what order. The accused said that once students started fleeing he discarded a gun and remaining ammunition, and he took off a vest that he was wearing so that he could blend in with other students and get away. Then he went out and got a soda at Subway and then went to a McDonald's.

KELLY: He got a soda and then went to McDonald's. Wow. All right. What did he look like when he showed up for his court appearance today?

BRADY: He wore an orange jail uniform. His hands were bound. And he kind of shuffled up to the microphone. And when asked to confirm his name, he - to the judge he just said simply, yes, ma'am. And a few minutes later, without any argument from the attorney, the judge ordered him held without bail. And, you know, I didn't see any sign that he was injured. We - there were reports that he had been treated for some injuries, but I saw no indications of that or any emotion. It was a little difficult, though, to see his face because he looked down in front of him during most of the hearing.

KELLY: What about any sign, any indication as to why he might have chosen to do this?

BRADY: It's so clear now that there were some warning signs that he was a troubled young man and he displayed some violent tendencies. My colleague, Brian Mann, talked with 18-year-old Chad Williams at a vigil this afternoon. Williams says he's known the alleged shooter since middle school. And Williams says he was often in trouble for fighting and getting - he got expelled from school. We know that the alleged shooter had an AR-15 rifle, and Williams says he was really interested in guns.

CHAD WILLIAMS: And he showed me all his gun books. He had, like, straight gun books. It was, like, assault rifles. And I knew he was crazy, but I didn't think he would do something like this.

BRADY: We also talked with a man from Mississippi who says last year there was a comment on his YouTube page from someone named Nikolas Cruz saying, quote, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter." The FBI says YouTube deleted that comment. The agency looked into the report, but can't make any connection to the accused in this case. And authorities say they are continuing to talk with people who know the accused and look into his social media activity.

KELLY: One other possible disturbing development that we're hearing about is that he may have had connections to a white nationalist militia group. Have you been able to nail down confirmation on that?

BRADY: It's a Tallahassee-based group called Republic of Florida. The leader of that group, Jordan Jereb, says Cruz participated in paramilitary drills. But investigators say they haven't confirmed that yet. And, you know, just the overall picture of this young man at the center of all this, it's still confusing. We know that he had a rough life. Both of his parents are dead. His father died when he was young and his mother just about four months ago. We talked with attorney Jim Lewis, who's representing a family Cruz was staying with for the past three months. And he gives a different image of the accused.

JIM LEWIS: He was very respectful in terms of the family. He followed the rules of the household and was very appreciative of, you know, the home that this family gave him because he didn't have one.

BRADY: Lewis says the 19-year-old was depressed, still grieving the loss of his mother, but the family didn't see any indications that he was violent.

KELLY: NPR's Jeff Brady reporting from outside the Broward County courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Jeff, thanks so much.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues, climate change and the mid-Atlantic region. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.