Nikolas Cruz tried to blend in with panicked students fleeing the Florida high school he had just opened fire in, killing 17, authorities said late Wednesday.
Cruz concealed himself in the crowd and was seen running out of the school with hundreds of terrified students, authorities said.
Authorities said Cruz was later taken into custody “without incident” by Coconut Creek police in a Coral Springs neighborhood, located just a few miles from the high school itself.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said Cruz, 19, was identified as the only possible gunman after looking at security footage from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Police said Cruz was taken to the hospital because he “exhibited labored breathing.” He was later seen being escorted into Broward Sheriff’s headquarters in a medical robe.
The carnage, however, had already taken its toll.
Noah Parness, 17, told the Associated Press that the fire alarm went off for the second time in the day at around 2:30 p.m. Parness said students were calmly filing out of the school when he suddenly heard several pops.
“Everyone was kind of just standing there calm, and then we saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint,” Parness said. “I hopped a fence.”
An unidentified student described the gruesome scene in an interview with Fox News.
“The police came through the hallway to get us and in the hallway, I saw a big pile of blood, like, kind of smeared as if they were dragged away, and I saw two girls probably dead in the hallway,” she said. “And then, coming down the stairs, there was some more blood and outside the building there was another guy – I think it was a teacher – who was, [I’m] pretty sure was dead.”
The motive behind the massacre was not immediately clear. Lawmakers and officials suggested the shooting may have been planned.
Sheriff Scott Israel, from Broward County, said at an evening news conference that the suspect carried an AR-15 rifle and had “countless magazines.” He did not specify how many rounds were fired.
“Everyone was kind of just standing there calm, and then we saw a bunch of teachers running down the stairway, and then everybody shifted and broke into a sprint.”
“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” Israel said.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told Fox News that Cruz was wearing a gas mask and may have had smoke bombs during the rampage.
Nelson said in a separate interview with CNN that Cruz used the fire alarm “so the kids would come pouring out of the classrooms into the hall.”
After speaking with authorities, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, said in a tweet “it is clear attack was designed & executed to maximize loss of life.”
Cruz’s classmates had described him as a “loner” and “that weird kid that you see at school.”
Officials described Cruz as a volatile teenager whose strange behavior had caused others to end friendships with him, particularly after a fight that led to his expulsion.
Cruz was also described as having an “obsessive interest in weapons,” according to the Miami Herald. One teacher said Cruz was banned from entering campus with a backpack, the newspaper reported.
“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” Joshua Charo, 16, a former classmate, told the Herald. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”
Another unidentified student told WJXT-TV that “everyone predicted” the shooting.
“Honestly, a lot of people were saying it was gonna be him,” the unnamed student told the news station. He said kids joked around that the student would be the one to “shoot up the school.”
An Instagram page apparently belonging to Cruz showed pictures of guns and knives. Israel said some of Cruz’s social media posts were “very, very disturbing.”
The Parkland shooting is the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown.
Students and families will be able to see grief counselors at the Pines Trials Park Recreation Center, Coral Springs Gymnasium and Coral Springs Center for Performing Arts starting Thursday at 8 a.m., Broward County Schools officials said.
Counselors will also be made available for students and staff at Westglades Middle School and the Parkland Library, officials said.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be closed Thursday and Friday.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said her office would pay for the funeral expenses of the victims.
“We will pay for the funeral expenses of these poor victims,” Bondi said. “We will take care of it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.