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Head bowed, Florida shooting suspect returns to court for hearing

A former student accused of last week’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school returned to court for one of two hearings on Monday in a case that has galvanised advocates of stricter gun control, including many of the rampage survivors.

Nikolas Cruz, his head bowed, hands shackled to his waist and wearing a red, jail-issued jumpsuit, showed no emotion during the first, procedural session in Fort Lauderdale.

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

In the second hearing, the judge 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 had already been leaked to a local newspaper.

Cruz, who did not attend the second session, is facing 17 counts of premeditated murder after the attack last Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, near Fort Lauderdale. It is the deadliest shooting ever at a US high school.

The suspect, whose mother died in November, was assessed by the authorities after videos surfaced on the social media platform Snapchat showing him cutting himself, according to a report in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper.

“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 report was quoted as saying.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has acknowledged it failed to act on a tip warning that Cruz possessed a gun and the desire to kill.

Cruz’s team of public defendants petitioned for the release, and Florida Circuit Court Judge Charles Greene, who presided over the hearing, agreed. But he stopped short of allowing the release of details of the suspect’s mental health history and child abuse records.

“The public has a right to know whether the information that has been broadcast and disseminated is accurate,” Greene said of the information already leaked. “If there are shortcomings in the department, the public has a right to know.”

Student survivors gathered with teachers and gun safety advocates on Monday to plan a visit to the state capital of Tallahassee on Wednesday. They will demand state lawmakers enact a ban 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.

He also 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 US election.

- Reuters

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