Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect charged with murdering 17 people with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle at a Florida high school on Wednesday had been a member of a competitive shooting club at the school that received a donation from the NRA.
The Associated Press reports that in 2016, Cruz had been a member of the school’s Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) air-rifle marksmanship team, a small group who met together after class for target practice using air rifles and traveled to other schools to compete.
That program was supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation, the NRA’s charitable arm, as part of a multimillion dollar national campaign to promote youth shooting clubs. In 2016, when Cruz was a member of the team, the NRA Foundation awarded the school program a $10,827 non-cash grant.
“He was a very good shot,” Aaron Diener, who was part of Cruz’s shooting team in 2016, told the AP. “He had an AR-15 he talked about, and pistols he had shot. ... He would tell us, ‘Oh, it was so fun to shoot this rifle’ or ‘It was so fun to shoot that.’ It seemed almost therapeutic to him, the way he spoke about it.”
The NRA Foundation says on its website that it has distributed $335 million in grants since 1990. According to the Associated Press, the majority of the of the grants to schools — $2.2 million in 2016 — were non-cash grants, like the one Cruz’s team received.
Cruz was reportedly wearing his old JROTC shirt when police arrested him shortly after the shooting occurred. Cruz had been expelled from the school last year for disciplinary reasons.
Some high school students actually hid in the JROTC training room when Cruz began his rampage through the school. Colton Haab, a 17-year-old member of the JROTC, said he led about 60 of his fellow students into the training room, where they barricaded themselves behind curtains of Kevlar.