NEWS
20/02/2018 12:50 SAST | Updated 20/02/2018 12:51 SAST

Florida School-Shooting Suspect Appears In Court

The case has galvanised advocates of stricter gun control, including many of the rampage survivors.

Nikolas Cruz appears in court before Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Sun Sentinel via Getty Images
Nikolas Cruz appears in court before Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Cruz is facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

A former student accused of last week's deadly shooting at a Florida high school returned to court for a hearing on Monday in a case that has galvanised advocates of stricter gun control, including many of the rampage survivors.

Nikolas Cruz, his head bowed, hands shackled at his waist and wearing a red, jail-issue jumpsuit, showed no emotion during the procedural session in Fort Lauderdale.

The hearing ended with Broward Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer ruling that a defence motion filed last week remain sealed from public view. The content of the motion, sealed by another judge, was not described in the hearing.

POOL New / Reuters
Nikolas Cruz, facing 17 charges of premeditated murder in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appears in court for a status hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool

In a second hearing, Broward Circuit Court Judge Charles Greene ordered the release of parts of a mental-health assessment of Cruz by the Florida department of children and families in November 2016. The report had already been leaked to Florida's Sun Sentinel newspaper.

Cruz, who did not attend the second hearing, is facing 17 counts of premeditated murder after the attack on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, near Fort Lauderdale. It is the deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. high school.

The suspect, whose mother died in November, was investigated by authorities after videos surfaced on Snapchat showing him cutting himself, the assessment by the department of children and families said.

"Mr Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for," the released report said.

In a statement, department secretary Mike Carroll said the records showed Cruz was getting mental-health services before, during and after the assessment. Cruz was living with his mother and attending school when it concluded, he said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has acknowledged that it failed to act on a tip called in last month warning that Cruz possessed a gun and the desire to kill.

Joe Skipper / Reuters
Protesters take part in a Call To Action Against Gun Violence rally by the Interfaith Justice League and others in Delray Beach, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Greene agreed to the request by Cruz's team of public defenders to release the assessment. But he stopped short of allowing the release of details of Cruz's mental-health history and child-abuse records.

Student survivors gathered with teachers and gun-safety advocates to plan a visit to the state capital, Tallahassee, on Wednesday. They will demand that state lawmakers enact a ban on the sale of assault weapons in Florida.

The White House said on Monday that President Trump supports efforts to improve federal background checks for gun purchases. Trump angered some students by suggesting in a tweet on Saturday that the FBI had missed signs that the shooter was troubled because it was distracted by its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.