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Sounds Of Balloons Popping Were Shots Fom Florida School Shooter's Gun


And now let's work through the South Florida shooting from the beginning. The first thing that some students heard was a popping noise. A few imagined Valentine's Day balloons popping. Soon they learned it was a gunman who killed 17 people. NPR's Greg Allen reports on what happened as word spread.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The superintendent of schools for Broward County, Robert Runcie, says he was in the car yesterday when he got the call. Police were responding to reports of shots fired at a district high school.

ROBERT RUNCIE: It's a day that you pray, every day I get up, that we will never have to see.

ALLEN: It was around 2:35 p.m. when the fire alarm sounded. That seemed odd because there'd already been a fire drill earlier that day. Soon teachers and students got the word. It was a code red. There was an active shooter in the school. In some classrooms, teachers made sure their doors were locked, lights turned off and students hid in closets or under the desks. But, thinking it was a drill, one student interviewed on television said her teacher led them out of the classroom before recognizing the danger. As he got them back into the classroom, she said, he was shot and killed. The sheriff's office says the 17 killed include both students and adults. By 3:00 p.m., SWAT teams from the Broward sheriff's office were on the scene and began evacuating students from the building. By that time, the shooter had apparently left the premises.


UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Student in classroom 1255 says somebody's pushing on her door. Is that a police officer?

ALLEN: Students used their cellphones to text their parents and police. Teachers asked police to identify themselves before they'd unlock their doors. Students were escorted out single file with their arms raised and told to leave their backpacks to be searched. While SWAT teams searched the school, police found the suspect a few miles away and arrested him without incident. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel identified him as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student who'd been expelled from the high school for disciplinary reasons. And, Israel said, he was well-armed.


SCOTT ISRAEL: He had countless magazines, multiple magazines. And, at this point, we believe he had one AR-15 rifle.

ALLEN: Later, Florida Senator Bill Nelson said authorities also found smoke grenades and a gas mask. In all, Israel said, 17 people were killed.


ISRAEL: Twelve victims within the building. Two victims are outside, just outside the building. One victim is on the street, at the corner of Pine Island. And two people lost their lives at the hospital.

ALLEN: Doctors at Broward Health North Hospital said three gunshot victims from the school were in critical condition, three others were stable. As police questioned Cruz, details began to emerge about a loner with an obsession with firearms. Jim Gard is a math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was interviewed on CNN. He had Cruz in one of his classes last year.


JIM GARD: He was real quiet. You know, it was a basic math class and he was, you know, a quiet kid in class. But I never had any problems with Nik (ph).

ALLEN: In an interview with the Miami Herald, Gard said Cruz had been identified as a potential threat to other students by administrators in the past. On his social media pages, Cruz posted numerous photos of himself with firearms and said shooting guns served as a type of therapy. Broward sheriff Scott Israel says investigators are looking closely at those accounts.


ISRAEL: And we've already began to dissect his websites and the things, that social media that he was on, and some of the things have come to mind are very, very disturbing.

ALLEN: By yesterday evening, worried parents were able to reunite with their children at a nearby hotel. But for families of the 17 children and adults killed yesterday, today there's only loss. Greg Allen, NPR News, Plantation, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.