As emergency responders secured the chaotic scene at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday, Officer Michael Leonard was driving through a nearby residential area, looking for the man, still at large, who'd killed 17 people.
Leonard had been at the Coconut Creek, Florida, police headquarters when he heard about the school shooting, and had come to nearby Parkland to help. But he saw how many other officers were at the school, so he decided to expand his search, Leonard recalled at a news conference Thursday. He headed into a residential area nearby with a description of what the suspect was wearing.
There weren't many people on the back roads Leonard drove down — "a couple people walking their dogs," he recalled — and then he saw a teenager who matched the description he'd heard over the radio.
"He looked like a typical high school student and for a quick moment I thought, could this be the person? Is this who I need to stop?" Leonard said.
His moment of doubt didn't last long.
"Training kicked in. I pulled my vehicle over immediately, engaged the suspect. He complied with my commands and was taken into custody without any issues," Leonard said.
The 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student who Leonard arrested, Nikolas Cruz, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He is being held without bond. Sheriff's investigators say he's confessed to being the gunman.
"He’s sad, he’s mournful, he’s remorseful. He is fully aware of what is going on. And he’s just a broken human being," his court-appointed attorney told the media after his arraignment.
Cruz had arrived at the school about an hour before his arrest in what a witness called a small, goldish-colored vehicle, according to an arrest affidavit filed Thursday by a Broward County sheriff's investigator. The vehicle was an Uber; the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Cruz was wearing a maroon shirt, black pants, a black hat and a black backpack, and carried a black duffel, according to the witness' account in the affidavit. The witness, whose name is redacted in the public report, radioed a colleague to report Cruz, but gunshots rang out within a minute and the witness called a "Code Red."
Christopher McKenna, a student at the school, said he met face to face with the gunman right before the bullets spread.
"I was on the first floor and the first-floor bathroom is locked so I had to go the second floor. I had a pass in my hand, I was going to the bathroom and then I open the staircase door and there the kid was, loading up his gun," McKenna said. "And he said something to me, he said: 'You better get out of here. Things are going to get messy.'"
McKenna said he ran out the closest door and ran into football coach Aaron Feis, who helped provide security at the school, and he took him to a nearby baseball field before going back inside.
State, Local Officials on Deadly Fla. High School Shooting
Feis was shot to death while selflessly shielding students from bullets.
911 calls reached police about 2:23 p.m. ET. There was an armed school resource deputy on campus, but he never encountered the gunman, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has said.
At some point, Cruz stopped shooting and abandoned his AR-15 at the scene, the affidavit said. The gun was traced to Cruz, who purchased it in February 2017.
Cruz blended in with fleeing students, successfully making his way out of the school, according to the affidavit. Israel said Cruz arrived at a nearby Walmart before he was apprehended. He said Cruz bought a drink a Subway, left the store on foot and went to McDonald's and sat down.
Less than an hour after he left McDonald's, Cruz was apprehended. While he was in custody, the witness who watched him walk into the school was brought over and confirmed Leonard had captured the same man.
According to the affidavit, Cruz confessed to police after being read his Miranda rights "that he was the gunman who entered the school campus armed with [an] AR-15 and began shooting students that he saw in the hallways and on the school grounds." He said there were extra magazines in his backpack, according to the affidavit.
He also admitted to discarding the rifle and blending in with the crowd, according to the affidavit, which attests that the location of the gun and extra magazines was consistent with what Cruz said.
At his arraignment Thursday, Cruz didn't enter a plea. He only spoke to say "Yes, ma'am" when the judge asked if he is Nikolas Cruz.