PARKLAND, Fla. — Daniel Medeiros was in a fourth-period English class, feeling worn down by a lesson on sonnets when the fire alarm went off. “Oh yeah,” he thought to himself. “Sweet.”
Moments earlier, Haeseung Lee had left his psychology class to go to the bathroom when he heard a succession of bangs. What he knows about firearms he learned from video games. But these sounded a lot like gunshots. He bolted for a classroom.
It was the beginning of six minutes of gunfire that would obliterate what was supposed to be a day like any other at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A troubled ex-student, Nikolas Cruz, had ridden to campus in an Uber with a legally purchased AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a backpack full of ammunition. His lightning attack, between 2:21 p.m. and 2:27 p.m., would leave 17 people dead.
Second by second, lives at Stoneman Douglas were transformed, broken and stolen. Students locked themselves in closets. They considered fighting back, and considered their own deaths. And amid gunfire and chaos, they shot urgent text messages to their parents.
Jackie McKenna, 17, a senior, texted her mother, Tina McKenna, at 2:30 p.m.
“Mom we are in a code black,” she wrote. “There are gun shots.”
“Are you aware of the situation right now,” Daniel texted his mother, who speaks Portuguese.
“What happened,” she texted back.
“Alguma coisa na escola?” Something at school?
And then: “Are you O.K.?”
It was Valentine’s Day. The morning and early afternoon had unfolded in a whirl of big balloons, stuffed animals and multicolored carnations from a $1 flower sale. The gay/straight student alliance encouraged students to sign “declarations of love.” Daniel, 17, a star on the varsity soccer team, had given his girlfriend chocolates in the parking lot before school.
Just after 2 p.m., Mr. Cruz, 19, took a compact gold Uber car to campus.
Mr. Cruz was texting from inside the car with a student at Stoneman Douglas, the son of a family that had taken him in after his mother died in November. Earlier that day, Mr. Cruz had texted: “I have to tell you something important soon,” according to a person close to the family.
But when his friend asked what, Mr. Cruz did not explain.
“Nothing man,” he wrote from inside the Uber, heading to the school where his friend was in class.
His final text came at 2:18 p.m., a minute before the car dropped him off. “Yo,” he wrote.
Then he entered the three-story Freshman Building, carrying an AR-15 in a soft black rifle case.
Chris McKenna, a 15-year-old freshman, was trying to get to the bathroom in the building when he encountered Mr. Cruz in the stairwell. Mr. Cruz was loading bullets into his rifle.
“He told me, ‘Better get out of here, things are about to get messy,’” Chris recalled. “I had no idea who he was.”
At 2:21 p.m., Mr. Cruz began shooting into four classrooms.
Moises Lobaton, a senior, was in psychology class when the gunfire boomed. The students scurried to get as far away from the door as possible.
Moises, who turned 18 on Friday, counted eight shots before the bullets shattered the glass window on the door, injuring at least three of his classmates, including a girl who “wasn’t moving at all.”
“She was next to a pool of blood, but I couldn’t tell if it was hers or the guy next to hers,” Moises said. The boy had been shot in the arm and was bleeding profusely. His classmates wrapped the arm in cloth. Moises squeezed the hand of his sister’s best friend, who was bleeding from a bullet that grazed her knee. Another boy called 911.
“I was too scared to look up, so I kept my head down, looking at the floor,” Moises said. “The shots were something I’ll never forget. It sounded like bombs going off, one at a time. If I was one or two feet to the right, I would have died.”
After his run-in with Mr. Cruz in the stairwell, Chris went out the closest door and told Aaron Feis, a football coach and security guard, what he had seen. Mr. Feis took Chris on his golf cart to a baseball field, about 500 feet away from the Freshman Building.
“He said, ‘Stay here,’” Chris recalled. “So I stood there for a little bit, and then I heard shots go off, and from there I ran fast as I could to Walmart.” Other students later said Mr. Feis had died shielding people from gunfire.
Inside the building, Mr. Cruz had moved to the second floor and shot someone in a classroom.
Calls began streaming into 911. A description of the shooter went out over police radio: maroon shirt, black pants and a black hat, and carrying a black duffel bag and a black backpack.
It was 2:24 p.m. Mr. Cruz climbed the stairs to the third floor, where Scott Beigel, 35, taught freshman geography. He had broken the class into small groups for a quiz game on Asian geography.
Mr. Beigel had initially accompanied his class down to the second floor when the alarm went off. But as shots echoed through the hallways, he shepherded them back upstairs to take cover in the classroom. One of the last students to slip inside the classroom was Matthew Zeif, 14, just ahead of Mr. Beigel. Seconds later, the room filled with smoky haze, Matthew remembered. He turned to see his teacher lying by the door, pale and bleeding. He had been shot before he could lock the door.
As students pressed themselves against the wall, they worried that the gunman would enter the room.
Haeseung, who had rushed into a classroom full of incredulous students, eventually heard an administrator on the intercom speaking in a serious tone he had never heard before: “He said, ‘evacuate the building right now.’ So I ran again.”
He rushed outside to the bus loop, but teachers yelled at him to go back inside. He ended up in a counseling office with 50 other students, behind locked metal doors. Everyone was texting and calling friends and family. Haeseung sent numerous texts to his friend Ben Wikander, who had been in psychology class with him.
Mr. Cruz entered the third-floor stairwell at 2:27 p.m., dropped the rifle and backpack, and ran down the stairs, eventually blending in with the fleeing students.
Students began streaming off campus, running for their lives. Others remained holed up in classrooms, storage areas and bathrooms, unsure what to do as their panicking parents rushed as close to the blocked-off school as they could get. Cellphones erupted with instructions, pleas for help and rumors.
Andrew Gilroy, whose house is just behind the high school, received an alarming text from his 15-year-old son, William, a freshman, at 2:38 p.m.
“I think theirs a shooter at school,” the text said. “We’re on lockdown. We’re in a closet.”
Mr. Gilroy quickly responded: “OMG. Be smart.”
William texted: “Do u hear sirens from our house?”
Mr. Gilroy went outside and stood atop a berm in his backyard, peering at the school through trees and shrubs for any clues about what was happening. He had not heard any shooting.
Mr. Gilroy wrote: “Not yet … Tell everyone to be quiet … Oxygen and air. Noise discipline.”
William replied a few minutes later: “OK. I heard they got him but I don’t know.”
William texted again, saying that his friend Eric and some others were coming to the house to seek refuge. “So u know.”
William was still hiding in a closet in a classroom in the Freshman Building. About 10 students showed up at the house. Two of them were crying and badly shaken up. The teenagers wanted to stay outside and watch things develop at the school from afar. Mr. Gilroy insisted that they all go inside.
“I’m thinking that the shooter could be coming through here or there may be more than one shooter,” he said. “I told the kids, ‘Come in the house. We are locking this down.’”
Mr. Gilroy discreetly armed himself with a 9-mm handgun. “Just in case,” he said.
After leaving the school, Mr. Cruz walked to a Walmart down the road and bought a drink at a Subway. He also stopped at a McDonald’s across the street.
Then, as he strolled down a quiet residential street less than half a mile away, where a couple of people were walking their dogs, he was spotted by a police officer. Michael Leonard had been called in from the neighboring city of Coconut Creek for the emergency, but he decided to peel away from the mass of patrols of the school to comb the nearby streets.
“He looked like a typical high school student, and for a quick moment I thought, could this be the person who I need to stop?” Officer Leonard said of Mr. Cruz.
He wore a maroon shirt and black pants. The description matched. Officer Leonard pulled over.
Mr. Cruz complied with orders and did not resist arrest.
But the confusion and fear continued. Students still on campus waited long into the afternoon as the police swept the buildings and led them out.
Delaney Tarr, a 17-year-old senior who was hiding with fellow students in a classroom closet, shrank in terror when a SWAT team entered around 3:45 p.m.
“I think every person’s heart stopped when we heard noise,” Delaney said. “We didn’t know if it’s someone coming to help you or to kill you.”
From afternoon to late in the evening, the parking lot in front of a nearby Marriott, a designated pickup point for parents, was packed with police vehicles. Mothers and fathers arrived ashen-faced. Some left with relieved smiles, reunited with their children.
By 9:30 p.m., foot traffic had slowed, save for a few Red Cross volunteers bringing water and snacks to parents who were still inside the hotel, still waiting.
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