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School shooter will offer to plead guilty, public defender says

PARKLAND Fl. —  Confessed Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz intends to plead guilty, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said Friday. Finkelstein said the object is to avoid a painful trial and for Cruz not to get the death penalty. Prosecutors could not immediately be reached for comment.

Anguish and sorrow are giving way to anger Friday as the families of some of the 17 people killed in a South Florida school prepare to do the unimaginable — bury their children.

Thousands from the community around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — where authorities say an expelled student gunned down students and staff Wednesday afternoon — joined in a powerful candelight vigil Thursday night, joining the rest of the country in asking: Why?

Survivors and victims’ relatives are directing their ire at state and national politicians, demanding action and venting frustration over allegations that the 19-year-old suspect expressed a desire to commit exactly the kind of massacre of which he’s accused.

“President Trump, you say, ‘What can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools!” Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at the school, told CNN.

“What can you do? You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children [to] go to school and have to get killed!”

The funeral for Alyssa, 14, is Friday.

Latest developments

• Broward County Sheriff’s deputies were called to the family home of shooter Nikolas Cruz 39 times since 2010, according to documents obtained by CNN — but it’s not immediately clear which calls, if any, involved Cruz.

• Cruz confessed to police that he was the gunman, according to a probable cause affidavit. His public defender described him as a “broken human being” who is coming to grips with the pain he has caused.

• Cruz purchased the firearm used in the shooting, an AR-15 style rifle, legally in Florida nearly a year ago, according to Peter J. Forcelli, special agent in charge of the Miami division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

‘We are broken’

The sheriff’s office identified the 17 victims Thursday — which included three staff members and 14 students. The school is closed for the rest of the week, as the district offers grief counseling to students and their families.

At Thursday’s vigil, Fred Guttenberg, the father of one victim, spoke of his pain.

“I sent her to school yesterday,” Guttenberg, his voice on the verge of breaking, said of his 14-year-old daughter Jaime. “She was supposed to be safe. My job is to protect my children and I sent my kid to school.”

“What is unfathomable is that Jaime took a bullet and is dead,” he paused, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I do next… We are broken.”

The shooting is at least the fourth at US middle and high schools this year, and has reignited a debate over gun control. Some blame congressional inaction for the massacre while others say now is not the time for such political battles.

Alhadeff is one of several parents and students who are calling for lawmakers to take action. She and her husband, Illan, are demanding stronger gun control and tighter school security, including metal detectors and more armed officers or guards.

“President Trump: … You need to help us now,” she said, distraught, hours after identifying her daughter’s body at a morgue. “We need security now for all these children that have to go to school. We need action! Action! Action!”

Isabelle Robinson, a student at the school, said the gun control issue “shouldn’t be a fight between two different parties.”

“This should be a coming together where we all realize that something is wrong,” she said.

Principal gets advice from Sandy Hook official

Ty Thompson, principal of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said he had spoken with the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School “who gave me some advice on how to move through this, because this is not something that’s in the playbook.”

“I got some good advice from him and we’re going to move forward and get past this,” Thompson said at the vigil. “As everyone’s been saying, this is a great community and we come together as family and I see no different in this scenario.”

President Donald Trump said he is making plans to visit Parkland to meet with families and local officials. He pledged to hold a meeting with “the nation’s governors and attorney generals where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority.”

What we know about the shooter

Cruz is being held without bond after he attended a brief hearing Thursday in Broward County court. He is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

“He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful,” said public defender Melisa Mcneill, who is Cruz’s lead defense counsel. “He is fully aware of what is going on. He’s just a broken human being.”

Cruz entered the high school he had once attended on Wednesday around 2:21 p.m., according to a law enforcement timeline.

In the minutes leading up to the shooting, he exchanged texts with the son of his host family, who had opened up their home to Cruz after his mother died last year. Their son is a current student at the high school, who was there during the shooting.

They were messaging right up until 2:18 p.m., said Jim Lewis, the attorney for the host family.

The texts were “very innocuous,” Lewis said. “They were just conversations about ‘Hey, what are you doing? What are you doing later? What’s goin’ on?'”

“Nothing that would lead you to believe this young man, Nick, was about to do such a horrible thing,” the family attorney said.

After the shooting, Cruz fled the building by blending in with the students and staff evacuating the school. He bought a drink at a Subway store, then sat at a McDonald’s for a few minutes, the timeline states.

Investigators identified Cruz from school security videos and he was detained about 40 minutes later in a neighboring community.

Cruz was expelled last year from Stoneman Douglas high school over disciplinary problems, according to Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

His online presence included a variety of gun and violence-related postings on social media sites. Posts under videos on YouTube and other sites by someone using the name Nikolas Cruz include threatening comments, such as “I whana shoot people with my AR-15” (sic) and “I wanna die Fighting killing sh** ton of people.”