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17 dead in Florida High School shooting; former student arrested

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 A former student went on a shooting rampage at a Florida high school Wednesday, leaving 17 dead while panicked students barricaded themselves inside classrooms and frantic parents raced to the scene.

Some of those mothers and fathers were still waiting into the night for word whether their child survived the massacre. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said five of the 17 victims have still not been identified as of 9:30 p.m. ET — about seven hours after the shooting.

The gunman, who had been expelled and didn’t graduate, was identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. Israel said Cruz was armed with “countless” magazines and an AR-15-style rifle.

Cruz was arrested a short distance from the school near a home, a law enforcement official who is not authorized to comment publicly told USA TODAY. Students recognized the suspect during the assault, he said.

Flanked by officers, the suspect was later escorted into a police station wearing a hospital gown.

“Another horrific day, a detestable day,” Israel said. “I’m absolutely sick to my stomach to see children who go to school armed with backpacks and pencils lose their lives.”

The shooting happened about 2 p.m. at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which is about 30 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale, according to the Coral Springs Police Department.

The 17 dead include students and adults, Israel said. Others were injured and taken to local hospitals, including at least 14 who were treated at Broward Health Medical Center and Broward Health North in Deerfield Beach.

Several were in critical condition Wednesday night.

Students said chaos ensued when a fire alarm sounded in the school near dismissal time — then the gunfire started. Israel said Cruz started shooting outside then made his way through the school’s hallways.

He wore a gas mask and used smoke grenades “so the kids would come out in the hallways and thus, he had the opportunity with crowded hallways to start picking off people,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told MSNBC.

Student Rebecca Bogart, 17, wasn’t sure whether the reports of shooting were a drill at first.

The school had a fire drill earlier that day, and she knew it was somewhat common to do an active shooter drill.

It wasn’t until the windows of her first floor classroom shattered and Bogart saw a bullet near the shades did she understand what was happening.

“It was really hard to be calm,” Bogart said. “My friend was holding my hand.”

Bogart said that’s what she and her classmates tried to do as they hid from the shooter.

Though she couldn’t see them from under the teacher’s desk where she was hiding, Bogart said she could hear four of her classmates screaming in pain from injuries.

She added she didn’t know whether they had been shot.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel says there are multiple casualties in a shooting at a high school in South Florida. (Feb. 14) AP

When SWAT officers entered the classroom, they escorted students out. As Bogart walked down the hall, she saw students covered in blood.

Officers told the students to get as far away as possible. Bogart said she walked miles before stopping to get picked up by her father.

“I’m still in shock right now,” she said.

Television footage showed the terrifying moments outside the school. Students ran single file from the building with their hands in the air — throwing backpacks into a large pile and huddling under trees across the street.

As students scrambled to safety, law enforcers with weapons drawn approached the building.

The gunman was expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons,” but Israel didn’t elaborate.

Cameras captured authorities taking Cruz into custody and to a local hospital. Police said the gunman was a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) student military program.

Cruz would joke about shooting people or shooting up establishments, she said. At the time, she thought it was normal, violent teenage jokes, she said. Cruz would also talk a lot about having guns and using them in different situations, she said.

Math teacher Jim Gard told the Miami Herald he taught the suspect last year, who he said was troubled.

“We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” Gard told the newspaper. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

Israel said authorities were scouring through anything that would lead them to a motive in the tragedy, including a website and social media pages.

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said it was a dark day in the county’s history.

“It’s a horrific situation. It’s just a horrible day for us,” he said. “… This is a day we prayed would never happen in our county.”

He said every high school in the county has a police presence, adding there are typically two officers at every school.

Worried parents crowded around the school, some asking television crews what they should do to get information on their child, and students cried when they were reunited with their mothers and fathers. Some of the injured were treated on sidewalks and loaded into ambulances.

Twelve of the victims were found inside the school, two were killed outside, and two others died in the hospital. One additional person was killed off the school’s campus, Israel said.

Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at the school, told CNN she hid with her students in a closet until law enforcement cleared them. Footage on local television stations showed SWAT officers entering a classroom with guns drawn and students shaking and crying as they held up their hands.

The shooting rekindled the debate over gun laws, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott was asked multiple times at a 9 p.m. news conference whether this tragedy marked a needed change.

Scott said there is a time and place for that conversation but this was not it, adding he concluded the whole incident was just “pure evil.”

The state has pledged to pay for funeral costs for the victims and cover all counseling.

The White House also released a statement as the tragedy was unfolding.

“The president has been made aware of the school shooting in Florida,” deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said. “We are monitoring the situation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.”

The incident comes just weeks after a rampage at a rural Kentucky high school. A 15-year-old faces two counts of murder and 12 counts of first-degree assault after police said he killed two and wounded more than a dozen others in a shooting spree at Marshall County High School in Benton.

There have been at least six school shootings in 2018.

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LAPD opens internal affairs inquiry in Nipsey Hussle murder

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Los Angeles police have opened an internal affairs investigation into why the woman who drove the getaway car in the aftermath of rapper Nipsey Hussle’s killing was sent home when she tried to turn herself in during the manhunt for the shooter.

The LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General confirmed Monday that the Internal Affairs Group is investigating a desk officer’s response at the 77th Street station. Capt. Gisselle Espinoza, an LAPD spokeswoman, said the matter is under administrative investigation and she couldn’t release more details.

FILE - This April 4, 2019 file photo shows Eric Holder, the suspect in the killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles County Superior Court with his attorney Christopher Darden. Holder is charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack outside Hussle's The Marathon clothing store. Court documents show that Hussle and Holder had a conversation about “snitching” shortly before Hussle was shot. (Patrick T. Fallon/Pool via AP)© Provided by The Associated Press FILE – This April 4, 2019 file photo shows Eric Holder, the suspect in the killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles County Superior Court with his attorney Christopher Darden. Holder is charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack outside Hussle’s The Marathon clothing store. Court documents show that Hussle and Holder had a conversation about “snitching” shortly before Hussle was shot. (Patrick T. Fallon/Pool via AP)

Grand jury testimony shows the woman who drove the suspect, Eric R. Holder, away from the March 31 shooting had gone to the station because her car and license plate were on the news.

“Oh my God,” the woman, whose name has not been released, testified that she told her mother. “My car is on here and everything, and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t know this boy was gonna do this.”

Her mother called police but was told detectives wouldn’t be available until 6 a.m. the next day, grand jury transcripts show.

When they arrived at the station the next morning, the front desk officer said “don’t worry about it” and “don’t listen to the news,” the transcript shows. The woman left the station, returning later to speak to detectives after her mother called police again.

LAPD Detective Cedric Washington testified that the woman had been turned away.

“That is true according to the desk officer that I spoke to about it,” Washington said.

“OK. He apparently missed a briefing in the chief’s press conference that day, I guess,” Deputy District Attorney John McKinney said.

Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said Monday in an email that the internal investigation began a few days ago.

“While the initial indications pointed to a miscommunication, we have initiated an administrative investigation to ensure all policies and procedures were followed,” Rubenstein wrote. “We will review all statements that have already been given, interview all of the individuals involved, and look for any potential body cam video that may have captured the interchange.”

Rubenstein told the Los Angeles Times last week there didn’t appear to be any misconduct.

“She was not making herself clear of what she was doing,” Rubenstein said, noting that the officer believed the woman was reporting that someone was just recording video of her car on television.

A grand jury on May 9 returned an indictment charging Holder, 29, with murder, attempted murder and other felonies. He has pleaded not guilty.

The woman testified that Holder was a friend she had known for about a month and that she believed the two were just stopping at a shopping center for food.

She saw Hussle standing outside his South Los Angeles clothing store, The Marathon, expressed her excitement and took a picture with him after overhearing Holder and Hussle’s conversation about “snitching.”

The woman and Holder had pulled out of the shopping center and into a nearby gas station when Holder loaded a gun, told her he would be back and walked back to the shopping center, the woman testified.

She said she heard two gunshots, and Holder returned moments later telling her to drive. She said she didn’t learn Hussle had been shot until later that night.

Witnesses heard Holder and Hussle, both of whom have ties to the Rollin’ 60s street gang, discussing “snitching” minutes before Hussle was shot, according to the transcripts.

Holder was arrested two days later about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the crime scene.

Hussle, 33, whose real name is Ermias Ashgedom, was a long-respected rapper who had just broken through with a Grammy-nominated album before he was shot and killed.

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Beth Chapman not expected to recover

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Beth Chapman is not expected to recover and leave the hospital, and the family is preparing for the worst … family sources say.

We’ve learned Beth’s mother has flown from the mainland to Hawaii to be by her daughter’s side. Her children and grandchildren — many of whom live in Hawaii — are also gathering at Beth’s bedside.

As we reported, Beth has been waging a difficult war against stage 4 lung cancer. She was hospitalized Saturday after experiencing difficulty breathing as well as choking. She was placed in a medically-induced coma.

 

Family sources say there’s not a lot that can be done for Beth and at this point, and the family is making medical decisions with the help of her doctors.

Dog posted a pic of Beth’s hand as she lay in her hospital bed with freshly painted nails, with the caption, “You all know how she is about HER NAILS!!” 

 

She had been diagnosed with cancer back in 2017 and suffered a recurrence last November. Beth said last month on Mother’s Day, “Chemotherapy is not my bag, people. Sorry, that’s not for me. So for me, this is the ultimate test of faith. This is my ultimate lesson.”

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Former State Senator Reportedly Found Shot to Death at Her Home

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A former Arkansas state senator was reportedly found dead at her home this week, and authorities are investigating her death as a homicide.

The body of a woman was discovered Tuesday night at Linda Collins-Smith’s residence in the city of Pocahontas, some 145 miles northeast of the state capital, Little Rock. The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office said its deputies responded to the scene and then asked the Arkansas State Police to be the lead investigative agency in what is currently being treated as a homicide investigation.

“The condition of the body prevented any immediate positive identification,” Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said at a press conference Wednesday. “The body has been sent for an autopsy to determine the positive identification and cause of death.

Authorities wouldn’t say if Collins-Smith is the victim, and a judge has issued a gag order sealing the documents and statements obtained by police.

“Arkansas State Police has not, as of this hour, issued a statement that positively identifies a homicide victim in this case,” Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told ABC News in an email early Thursday morning.

However, Collins-Smith’s former press secretary, Ken Yang, told Little Rock ABC affiliate KATV that she was found shot to death inside her home and her body was wrapped in some sort of blanket. Neighbors apparently reported hearing gunshots a day or two before her body was discovered.

Collins-Smith, who ran for reelection last year but was defeated in the Republican Party primary, was “someone who truly cared about Arkansas, truly cared about her district,” according to Yang. She was 57.

“It was shocking,” he said during an interview Tuesday night. “This was not just a political relationship. This was a close personal friendship that I had with Linda.”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle expressed shock and sadness at the news of the death of their Republican colleague.

“I’m both stunned and saddened by the death of former State Senator Linda Collins-Smith,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “She was a good person who served in the public arena with passion and conviction. The First Lady and I extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends during this difficult time.”

“Today, we learned of the untimely death of former Senator Linda Collins Smith. She was a passionate voice for her people and a close member of our Republican family,” the Republican Party of Arkansas said in a statement on Tuesday evening. “We are praying for her loved ones during this difficult time.”

“To so many of us, Senator Linda Collins-Smith was more than just a colleague,” the Democratic Party of Arkansas said in a statement via Twitter on Tuesday night. “She was a friend and warm person. We are stunned and saddened to hear of her death. Please join us in prayer as we remember her family and her loved ones.”

Collins-Smith lost to James Sturch in the Republican Party primary for the 19th district in Arkansas in May 2018 by fewer than 600 votes. She previously served one term in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013, switching parties after being elected as a Democrat.

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