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Florida school shooting: How an Indian-American teacher saved her students

Valentine's Day 2018 turned into a Day of Carnage for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland

BS Web Team/Agencies  |  New Delhi 

florida school shooting
Teens, who walked out from the direction of the high school, are escorted by police following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Photo: AP/PTI

A quick-acting Indian-American maths teacher is being hailed for saving the lives of her students during the shooting rampage at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.

When an alarm sounded for the second time on Wednesday afternoon, Shanthi Viswanathan shut the doors to her algebra classroom, made the students crouch on the floor and covered the windows, keeping them out of the reach and sight of the gunman, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

"She was quick on her feet. She used her knowledge. She saved a lot of kids," Dawn Jarboe, the mother of one of Viswanathan's students, told the newspaper.

When an elite police contingent known as a SWAT team came and knocked on the door asking her to open it, "Viswanathan took no chance that it wasn't a trick by the gunman to get in" the newspaper said.

"She said, 'knock it down or open it with a key. I'm not opening the door,'" Jarboe quoted her as telling the police.

"Some SWAT guy took out the window and cleared our room," Jarboe's son, Brian, texted his mother, the newspaper said.

A former student of the school, Nikolas Cruz, barged into Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine's Day and killed 15 students and two staff members with an AR-15 automatic rifle.

No motive has been established as of Friday afternoon for the killings.

florida school shooting

Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Photo: AP/PTI

Nikolaus Cruz's life at home

The gunman was identified as Nikolaus Cruz, who previously attended the school and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said, "the gunman surrendered to police without a struggle." Cruz was adopted by Lynda and Roger Cruz when he was an infant, ABC reports. According to Kathie Blaine, the cousin of Cruz’s adopted mother who lives in New York, Lynda died of the flu in November. Blaine also said Cruz’s adoptive father died 13 years ago of a heart attack.

However, he was reported to have had a troubled childhood and had threatened in a YouTube post to shoot up schools.

Although it was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency closed the investigation without locating him, according to media reports.

The shooter abandoned his gun and during the ensuing chaos mixed in with the students to escape. He was captured about 40 minutes later in a neighbouring town, authorities said.

He was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple magazines of ammunition. According to CNN, he wore a gas mask, was carrying smoke grenades and set off a fire alarm, prompting students to pour out of their classrooms into the hallways.

As a high school freshman, Cruz was part of the US military-sponsored Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp program at the school.

Jillian Davis, 19, a recent graduate and former fellow JROTC member at Stoneman Douglas High, described Cruz as "kind of an outcast" who was known for unruly behaviour at school and was "crazy about guns."

Ex-CIA official breaks down on camera

A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Philip Mudd broke down into tears on camera during an interview, following the shooting at a Florida high school on Wednesday.

Philip Mudd, while speaking to CNN, condemned the incident and urged the people to speak against it.

He was emotional and visibly disturbed while saying, "A child of God is dead.

Can not we acknowledge in this country that we cannot accept this?"

Mudd also blamed the ISIS and Al Queda, which might have provided the ammunition and grenades used by the accused to conduct the shooting.

In the entire Broward County, where Parkland is located, the Indian population is 22,600, according to But none of those killed are of Indian descent.

First Published: Sat, February 17 2018. 13:49 IST