Florida Shooting Suspect Makes Brief Court Appearance
Nikolas Cruz said nothing when he made his first in-person appearance in Broward County Circuit Court. A previous appearance had been by a video connection from jail.
Cruz, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, kept his head down and did not appear to make eye contact with the judge or others in the courtroom, though he responded briefly to someone on the defense team.
The hearing concerned rules that will govern how documents are sealed. Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she was in favor of openness whenever possible.
Cruz is charged with killing 17 people and wounding many others in Wednesday’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which he once attended.
His lawyers have said he will plead guilty if prosecutors agree not to pursue the death penalty. No decision has been made on that.
The court appearance came after a weekend in which student survivors of the deadly Florida school shooting sought to become the public face of a revived gun control movement. That would put them on a potential collision course with President Donald Trump.
Several of the students have criticized the president, whose election was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association and who ran on a platform opposing gun control.
Trump spent the weekend at his estate in South Florida, only an hour’s drive from the high school. His only mentions of the massacre came in tweets Saturday contending that the FBI was too focused on the Russia investigation to respond to warnings about the suspect and mocking Democrats for failing to pass gun control.
“You’re the president. You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us,” said David Hogg, a 17-year-old student at the high school, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“How dare you,” he added.
After more than a day of criticism from the students, the White House said the president would hold a “listening session” with unspecified students Wednesday and meet Thursday with state and local security officials.
Meanwhile, Florida politicians scrambled to produce legislation in response to the Feb. 14 attack.
In a TV interview, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio embraced a Democratic bill in the Florida Legislature to allow courts to temporarily prevent people from having guns if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others.
Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, attended a prayer vigil at the First Church Coral Springs, blocks from the shooting site. He is expected to announce a legislative package with GOP lawmakers this week.
Emma Gonzalez, another student survivor, gave an impassioned speech at a weekend rally. On Sunday, she cited Trump, Rubio and Scott by name in a warning to politicians backed by the NRA.
“Now is the time to get on the right side of this, because this is not something that we are going to let sweep under the carpet,” she said on “Meet the Press.”
Seeking to increase pressure for gun control, the students plan to visit the state capitol in Tallahassee this week to demand immediate action. They are also calling for anti-gun violence demonstrations in Washington and other cities March 24.
Organizers behind the anti-Trump Women’s March called for a 17-minute nationwide walkout by teachers and students on March 14.
Chris Grady, a 19-year-old senior at the Florida school, was one of several students at Sunday’s rally near the campus.
“The kids in Newtown were too young to understand what happened and were too young to have their own voice,” Grady said, referring to the 20 first-graders killed in the 2012 Connecticut school shooting. “We want to be the voice for those kids and thousands of others.”
Not every student at the Florida school was calling for more gun control. James Ciaramello, a freshman in the school’s JROTC program, was heartbroken by the massacre but skeptical that firearms regulations could have prevented it.
“He’s just messed up,” Ciaramello said of Cruz, another JROTC member. “I mean, tighter gun control, it’s not going to help. There’s always a way around it.”
School and government records obtained Sunday show Cruz was diagnosed as developmentally delayed at age 3 and had disciplinary issues dating to middle school. In February 2014, while in 8th grade, he was transferred to a special school for children with emotional and behavioral issues. He stayed there until 10th grade, when he was transferred to Stoneman Douglas. Last year, Cruz was expelled.
Associated Press writers Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida; Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.
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