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Thirty minutes before the end of the school day, gunfire started

Posted: 12:14 AM, Feb 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-15 15:22:51Z
'You never know when this could happen'

PARKLAND, Fla. -- On Wednesday afternoon, 30 minutes before the scheduled end of the school day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Garrett Schreiber texted his mother and father that he loved them. All three knew it might be the last message he ever sent.

A 19-year-old former student named Nikolas Cruz had broken into the school, set off a fire alarm to draw students out of their classrooms and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, according to after-the-fact accounts from local authorities. Seventeen people died, making Stoneman Douglas the site of the nation's deadliest high school shooting ever.

Schreiber knew little of that as he and 60 of his classmates huddled shoulder-to-shoulder behind a desk. He heard the fire alarm; he saw school security guards running with their guns drawn. 

Moments later, he heard the barrage of shots from Cruz's rifle and screams in the hallway outside. 

Students who had stepped out to see what was happening streamed back into their classrooms -- through exits -- anywhere they believed would distance them from the gunfire.

"We did hear a lot of yells and shouts, but we were told not to open the door just in case the shooter was there," he said.

They waited like that, packed tight in a too-small space, for more than an hour. At home, a knock on the door brought the news to Schreiber's father, Matt.

"As a parent, it's kind of earth-shattering when you start learning about this," he said. "My neighbor came and started knocking on the door and asked if my son was at school today.

"It was surreal. It was almost living out a nightmare."

A SWAT team helped Garrett Schreiber's classroom evacuate safely, he said, avoiding the sight of injury and death around them.

"We were told to keep our arms on the person in front of us, on their shoulders, look straight ahead," he said. "Don't look down, walk fast and don't look around."

The suspect was taken into custody without a fight in a residential neighborhood about a mile away. He had multiple magazines of ammunition, authorities said.

"It's catastrophic. There really are no words," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters.

Even for those who escaped uninjured, like Schreiber, the road ahead is a hard one. One of his friends spent Wednesday night in surgery; others he knew were dead.

"It's just really scary, but everyone is coming together and praying for people who are injured or still not found," he said.

"You never know when something like this could happen."