Head bowed, Florida shooting suspect returns to court for hearing

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 before Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Stocker/Pool

By Katanga Johnson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – 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 galvanized 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-issued jumpsuit, showed no emotion during the procedural session in Fort Lauderdale.

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

A man mourns next to the crosses and Stars of David placed in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A man mourns next to the crosses and Stars of David placed in front of the fence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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 has already been leaked to South 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 the social media platform 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 it failed to act on a tip called in last month warning that Cruz possessed a gun and the desire to kill.

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 of Tallahassee on Wednesday. They will demand state lawmakers enact a ban on the sale of assault weapons in Florida.

The White House said on Monday that President Donald 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.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty and Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler)

House Speaker Ryan: Florida shooting shouldn’t threaten right to own guns

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a news conference with Republican leaders after a closed conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, in a round of interviews with conservative radio shows on Thursday, said the Florida school shooting that killed at least 17 people on Wednesday should not threaten citizens’ rights to own guns.

“There’s more questions than answers at this stage,” the Republican lawmaker said in an interview with Tom Katz on Indiana radio station WIBC about the mass shooting less than 24 hours earlier.

“I don’t think that means you then roll that conversation into taking away citizens’ rights – taking away a law-abiding citizen’s rights. Obviously this conversation typically goes there. Right now, I think we need to take a breath and collect the facts.”

(Reporting by Lisa LambertEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Florida nightclub gunman’s wife accused of misleading police

An Orlando resident wears an "Orlando Strong" T-shirt during a vigil at Lake Eola Park for victims of an early morning shooting attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016.

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – The wife of the gunman who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last year was due in court on Tuesday, accused of misleading authorities investigating the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

A federal indictment unsealed on Tuesday showed Noor Salman, 30, who was arrested on Monday in California, is charged with obstructing justice and aiding and abetting husband Omar Mateen’s attempt to provide material support to a terrorist organization.

Salman, who media reports said had been living in the San Francisco area, was to appear in federal court in Oakland, California, on Tuesday.

Mateen was killed in a shootout with police after he took hostages during a three-hour standoff in the Pulse nightclub. He also wounded dozens more in the June 12 attack, which intensified fears about attacks against Americans inspired by Islamic State.

The indictment, initially sealed, was returned last week by a federal grand jury in the U.S. Middle District of Florida, which includes Orlando. It accuses Salman of criminal activity beginning as early as April, several months before the massacre. Court documents said she abetted Mateen in providing support to a designated terrorist organization and engaged in “misleading conduct” toward local and federal authorities regarding the Pulse attack.

Salman told the New York Times in November she did not know Mateen was planning the massacre.

Mateen, 29, pledged allegiance to the leader of Islamic State during the rampage in which he used an assault rifle and pistol that had been legally purchased although he had twice been investigated by the FBI for possible connections with militant Islamist groups.

U.S. authorities say Mateen, who lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, with Salman and their young child, was self-radicalized and acted alone without assistance or orders from abroad.

Salman, a U.S. citizen and the daughter of parents who immigrated from the West Bank in 1985, was repeatedly questioned by law enforcement interrogators after the attack.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bill Trott)

Retiree and volunteer fireman among Florida airport shooting fatalities

People on the airport ramp area near terminals 1 and 2 are seen following a shooting incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida,

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – A volunteer firefighter in his sixties and a retiree en route to a cruise ship vacation with her husband were among the five travelers fatally gunned down during Friday’s airport attack in Florida, according to relatives and friends.

Authorities have not named any of the victims of the rampage in a crowded baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale’s airport, which also left six others shot and dozens more with injuries suffered in the chaos as people fled.

But a picture of some of those killed began to emerge on Saturday from local media reports and in testimonials by family and friends.

Terry Andres, a volunteer fireman from Virginia Beach, Virginia, was at the airport to go on vacation with his wife, his daughter told local broadcaster WAVY-TV.

She said he would have been celebrating his 63rd birthday later this month. He was shot multiple times, WAVY-TV reported, but his wife of 40 years was not hurt.

Andres had served since 2004 with the Oceana Volunteer Fire Department, where he was remembered fondly.

“He was well liked and respected for both his dedication to being a volunteer as well as his professional approach to his job as a support tech,” the department said in a statement on Saturday. “We mourn his passing as we do all the victims of the senseless attack in Ft. Lauderdale.”

Another of those killed was Olda Woltering, a retiree from Marietta, Georgia who was on vacation with her husband Ralph, according to people who recalled her as a prominent figure at the city’s Transfiguration Catholic Church.

“She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend,” said Chip Oudt, a fellow churchgoer who said they had been close. “She will be missed.”

Woltering joined the church with her husband in 1978. Others who worshipped there described her as always happy.

“Olga was so charming, calling everybody ‘Lovey’ or ‘Love’ in her unmistakable British accent,” church officials said in a statement. “Her life revolved around her kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and hundreds of extended family at Transfiguration.”

A third fatality was Michael Oehme of Council Bluffs, Iowa. He had also been on his way to take a cruise ship vacation with his wife when he was shot.

His wife, Kari Oehme, was shot in the shoulder and will survive, according to Omaha television station WOWT.

Mark Lea, a witness who told the station he saw the couple at the scene, recalled running to help the victims.

“Did not know her any way, shape or form,” Lea said of Kari Oehme. “I saw that she was down and injured in a pool of blood, which was hers and just stopped to help and console her and kind of minimize her from going further into shock.”

Authorities say three of the six victims taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds are in intensive care, while the others are in good condition. They have not given more details.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese)

Orlando hospitals won’t charge nightclub shooting victims for care

Gunshot survivor Angel Colon is surrounded by doctors as he listens to remarks at a news conference at the Orlando Regional Medical Center o

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) – Two Florida hospitals will not seek payment of medical bills from the dozens of people treated for injuries suffered in the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June, officials at the health facilities said.

The move leaves the hospitals with estimated unreimbursed costs topping $5.5 million, they said on Thursday.

Forty-nine people were killed and 53 were wounded by gunman Omar Mateen before police fatally shot him after a three-hour standoff inside the gay dance club on June 12.

Gunshot survivor Patience Carter is comforted by Dr. Neil Finkler as fellow survivor Angel Santiago looks on at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the

Gunshot survivor Patience Carter (2nd L) is comforted by Dr. Neil Finkler as fellow survivor Angel Santiago (R) looks on at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

U.S. authorities said Mateen was self-radicalized and acted alone, without assistance or orders from abroad, to commit the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“It was incredible to see how our community came together in the wake of the senseless Pulse shooting,” said Daryl Tol, president and CEO of Florida Hospital. “We hope this gesture can add to the heart and goodwill that defines Orlando.”

Florida Hospital treated 12 shooting victims at a cost of about $525,400, it said.

Orlando Health said in a statement that it expects to absorb costs exceeding $5 million after payments from funding sources such as insurance plans. Its main hospital, Orlando Regional Medical Center, treated 44 patients at its trauma center located a few blocks from the nightclub.

One patient hurt in the attack remains in guarded condition at the hospital, spokeswoman Sabrina Childress said in an email.

“During this very trying time, many organizations, individuals, and charities have reached out to Orlando Health to show their support,” Orlando Health President and CEO David Strong said in a statement. “This is simply our way of paying that kindness forward.”

The nightclub remains closed. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a quick stop at the memorial outside Pulse on Wednesday, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Bill Trott)