ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) – President Donald Trump avoided the topic of gun control in a televised address Thursday, a day after 17 adults and students were viciously slaughtered at a Florida high school by a lone gunman with an AR-15 rifle.
Trump instead focused on the suspect's mental health while expressing condolences to those affected by the senseless tragedy, telling them "your suffering is our burden also".
"No child, no teacher should ever be in danger in an American school," he said. "We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health."
Earlier Thursday, Trump lamented that the suspect's neighbors and classmates had not reported the suspect earlier. But Trump himself previously signed legislation nixing an Obama-era regulation that would have required the Social Security Administration to report quarterly to the national gun background check system about individuals with mental illnesses.
The short-lived rule was aimed at making it harder for people with severe mental health disorders to procure firearms.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder following the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
He was arrested by police without incident shortly after he allegedly fled the scene.
Cruz made his first court appearance Thursday afternoon and was ordered to be held without bond.
Scott Israel, sheriff of Broward County, where the shooting took place, said Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 rifle at Sunrise Tactical, a firearms dealer in the county.
He urged legislators to give police greater authority to take people who post graphic and disturbing content on social media involuntarily to mental health professionals for evaluation.
“What I’m asking our lawmakers to do is go back to places like Tallahassee, places like Washington, D.C., and give police the power,” Israel told reporters.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was more direct.
"If somebody is mentally ill, they should not have access to a gun," he said.
After opening fire in five classrooms, Cruz left his rifle and backpack and fled in a bid to conceal himself among fleeing students. He went to a nearby Wal-Mart and purchased a drink at a Subway restaurant before walking to a McDonald's, Israel said.
He was apprehended about 40 minutes thereafter, he added.
In a potential sign of Cruz's political leanings, the white supremacist Republic of Florida group told the Anti-Defamation League that Cruz was an associate that had participated in training exercises.
The alt-right group espouses the creation of a white ethno-state, and photos posted to the Republic of Florida's website depict heavily armed members in military-style clothing. The group lists among its short-term goals the recruitment of suburban young whites and says Islam is an enemy "of ROF and the Floridian people".
"Were [sic] not going to ask permission from the estableshemnt [sic] to have our territorial imparrative [sic]!" the militia group said on its website in language rife with misspellings.
Israel said police have no indication at this time that Cruz was affiliated with the white supremacist group.