Florida shooting: Alleged gunman Nikolas Cruz placed on suicide watch after first court appearance

'This is a loss for this community - a tragic loss of 17 children'

Andrew Buncombe
New York
@AndrewBuncombe
Thursday 15 February 2018 22:53
comments
Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz appears in court the day after mass shooting

The alleged Florida shooter has been placed on suicide watch after making his first court appearance, a day after the mass shooting over which he has been charged with 17 counts of murder.

As the community of Fort Lauderdale struggled to rebound from the attack on a high school, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz appeared briefly before magistrate court judge Kim Theresa Mollica.

Cruz was wearing an orange jump suit, with his hands in front of him, and did not look at the judge when she addressed him.

“Okay, sir. You are charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. I have something very important to tell you,” she said, according to CNN.

“You’re charged with some very serious crimes. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right at any time during this hearing, whatever you say can and will be used against you in the prosecution of this case.”

Asked if he understood what he had been told, replied: Yes, ma’am.”

The appearance only lasted a few minutes as the state asks for a so-called “no bond” hold, a request to which the defence did not challenge.

Ms Mollica then asked the prosecution how it wanted to proceed.

High school football player pays tribute to coach killed in Florida mass shooting

“Are you seeking to hold the defendant no bond and a finding of proof of evidence, presumption great?”

The prosecution said Cruz had entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School “with a premeditated design, in that he went loaded with an AR-15 rifle. He had additional ammunition with him… and shot 17 individuals who later died as a result of the gunshot wounds and then he fled the scene”.

The judge then said: “I find probable cause. I further find the proof of guilt to be evident or the presumption great, therefore Mr Cruz, you’re going to be held without bond until further order of the court. This order is without prejudice.”

This brief court appearance came as the FBI began digging into the background of the teenager, and friends and relatives paid tribute to the 17 students and teachers who lost their lives.

The FBI received at least two reports that Cruz may pose a threat before the shooting, a law enforcement source told CNN. In addition, the FBI was warned in September about a possible school shooting threat from a YouTube user with the same name as the suspect, according to a video blogger.

The FBI special agent in charge of the Miami division, Robert Lasky, confirmed Thursday morning that the bureau received a tip last year about the YouTube comment.

“No other information was included with that comment which would indicate a time, location or the true identity of the person who made the comment,” Mr Lasky said during a news conference.

“The FBI conducted database reviews, checks but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment.”

Public defence lawyer Gordon Weekes said Cruz was under suicide watch and was a deeply troubled young man.

He said Cruz struggled from significant mental illness his entire life. According to Mr Weekes, Cruz recognised the loss to the community from the shooting. Mr Weekes said Cruz was dealing with shock, and that he has expressed sadness by the deaths of the students.

Mr Weekes, while speaking to reporters, was overcome with emotions as he talked about the victims killed in the shooting.

“This is a loss for this community,” he said. “A tragic loss of 17 children.”

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