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Thursday, June 13, 2024

UF community struggles to cope after shooting at Broward County high school

<p>Richard Doan and his classmates wait to be escorted out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a SWAT team, following a school shooting that left at least 17 dead. </p>

Richard Doan and his classmates wait to be escorted out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a SWAT team, following a school shooting that left at least 17 dead. 

Richard Doan didn’t think much of the blare of the fire alarm when it went off Wednesday afternoon.

It had gone off once earlier that day already, and only 30 minutes stood between the 17-year-old senior and school dismissal.

Even as he stepped out of his Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School class and heard people yell about a shooting, he still wasn’t concerned.

Rumors were going around about an active shooter drill, after all. When he made it outside, he heard the screams: Run. Go back.

He turned back around and ran to the classroom he had left. His teacher shoved him into the corner of the closet with 18 others, where they stood for about an hour, waiting. On their phones, they scrolled through social media feeds to see what was happening outside. Then, they read the local news reports. A shooting. A lockdown.

Around them, a scene was unfolding. Across the spread-out campus at 5901 Pine Island Road in Parkland, Florida, shots from a rifle rang out through the hallways.

Doan would later find out the suspected shooter was his former classmate, Nikolas Cruz, later confirmed by Broward County Sheriff’s Office said.

Just a week ago, Doan’s future had been looking up. He had just been accepted to UF, his brother’s alma mater. But it didn’t matter much knowing some of his classmates may never even graduate high school. The reality of a school shooting was sinking in.

“You don’t really understand it until it happens,” he said. “I can’t really believe this happened to my school.”


By the end of the day, 17 people were dead.

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A report from BCSO said authorities arrested expelled Stoneman Douglas student 19-year-old Cruz as the suspect.

The victims included 14 students, a football coach, an athletic director and a teacher, the sheriff’s office said.

Cruz admitted to authorities he was the gunman and had an AR-15, the report said.

He was booked at the Broward County Jail, the sheriff’s office said. During first appearance, a judge ordered him to be held without bond.

Doan said he remembers how Cruz walked around the school with a “sly look on his face.”

Cruz had thick, red hair, his face splattered with freckles and posture bent, Doan said.

Doan watched him once kick over trash cans and pull fire alarms, Doan said.

“Oh, that’s just Nik,” they would all say. Everyone knew him, but they kept their distance, Doan said.

When Doan found out Cruz was the named suspect, he wasn’t surprised.

“It’s just unfortunate because we knew this kid. There was something off about him,” Doan said. “I wish we could’ve done something.”


Kevin Doan’s phone buzzed while working at his parent’s day spa a couple miles down from the high school.

His younger brother texted him his school was on lockdown, but he was safe.

The 22-year-old UF alumnus and his mother scrolled through Twitter for information. Old classmates began texting him in a group chat.

They shared news articles, videos of screams and pictures of blood in the classrooms they once learned in. It didn’t seem real.

“It’s like this dark cloud overtook the entire atmosphere,” he said. “I don’t even know how to process it.”

The brothers had lived in Parkland with their parents since 2002, he said. Their town was almost never in the news, but when it was, it was for being one of the safest cities in Florida. The high school had about 3,300 students and about 13 buildings.

At the beginning of the school year, Broward County Public Schools seemed to have been implementing more safety policies. They started doing active shooter drills.

Still, they never felt unsafe — they had no reason to feel otherwise.

Kevin Doan, a former UF Student Body vice president and double Gator, said he waited until the suspect was caught and SWAT escorted his brother out of the closet he had hid in before he drove over to the school.

As Richard Doan waited for his brother, he walked passed his former Advanced Placement psychology teacher, who lay on a stretcher, but was conscious. Her face was sunken behind her iconic black-framed glasses as she was lifted on an ambulance.

Outside, students frantically called their parents. Authorities walked around strapped with guns and bulletproof vests. Helicopters buzzed above them. No one knew how many had been shot or killed yet.

“Just one life lost — that’s already a disaster in itself,” Richard Doan said.

Melissa Falkowski, Doan’s 35-year-old journalism adviser, was the one who directed him and the other students into the closet.

Even 24 hours after the incident, she hadn’t slept.

She knew the teacher who died. The coach. She taught the brother of one of the 14 students killed.

She didn’t know Cruz, but she said she’s having a hard time understanding how he sat down at a McDonald’s after killing 17 people, which the sheriff’s office reported.

“It’s insane,” she said. “The whole thing is insane.”


David Rojas nearly dropped his phone when one of his best friends called to tell him there was a shooting at his old high school.

Shocked, he texted another friend about the news.

“No no no this CAN’T BE HAPPENING,” the 21-year-old wrote.

Rojas, a UF biomedical engineering senior, was studying before class at the Reitz Union when he learned of an active shooting at his alma mater.

Rojas said he lived in Coral Springs and went to Stoneman Douglas before coming to UF.

Campus security used to monitor the high school’s lunches around every corner, and Rojas said it always felt secure. Even when he went back to visit the campus a few years ago, he said he almost wasn’t let in because he didn’t get prior clearance.

He began making phone calls. Each one brought a sense of relief. One person safe. Then two. Then three. “Thank God,” he wrote to his friend.

“But I can’t watch this anymore.”

Contact Paige Fry at Follow her on Twitter at @paigexfry

Contact Elliott Nasy at Follow him on Twitter at @_ElohEl.

Richard Doan and his classmates wait to be escorted out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a SWAT team, following a school shooting that left at least 17 dead. 

Kevin Doan, left, with his brother Richard Doan, right. 

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