The suspect who opened fire at a high school in Florida, killing 17 people on Wednesday, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in one of the worst school shootings in US history.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, was identified as a former student who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons, said Scott Israel, the Broward County Sheriff. He was arrested near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and booked into jail after hours of questioning and receiving medical treatment.

Police said Mr Cruz was armed with a gas mask, smoke grenades, a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle and several magazines of ammunition when he opened fire from inside and outside the school in Parkland, about 50 miles north of Miami.

The school shooting was the deadliest in five years since an attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut where 26 children and adults were killed.

The victims of Wednesday’s attack comprised a mixture of students and adults. Twelve were killed inside the school, two outside, one on the street and two others died of their injuries in hospital, said Mr Israel.

“I’m saddened to say that 17 people lost their lives,” said Mr Israel. “It’s catastrophic.”

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About 3,300 students attend the school.

Shortly before the shooting, students said they heard a fire drill alarm, confusing them as they had had a drill earlier in the day.

“At first we just thought it was another fire drill,” one teenager told CNN.

Students first headed into hallways before teachers herded them back into classrooms to seek shelter. Many fled to a nearby Walmart as SWAT teams circled the school. Televised images showed dozens of students, their arms in the air, weaving their way between law enforcement officers with heavy weapons and helmets.

A teenage boy with red eyes from crying said: “It was insane, I am still shaking.”

This photo provided by the Broward County Jail shows Nikolas Cruz. Authorities say Cruz, a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, killing more than a dozen people and injuring several. (Broward County Jail via AP)
Nikolas Cruz was identified as a former student who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons © AP

Mr Israel said the suspect was found off campus and arrested without a struggle. Injured victims were taken to local hospitals, including Broward Health. Doctors there treated nine of the injured, with three of them said to be in a critical condition.

“It’s a terrible day . . . my very own kids went to that school,” added Mr Israel. “I’ve spoken to Governor Scott. I’ve spoken to the president, who has offered the full force of the US to help us get through.”

President Donald Trump said in a tweet: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”

He later added: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

News reports said Mr Cruz’s adopted mother had died of pneumonia late last year following the death of her husband several years ago from a heart attack. Mr Cruz had been living with a friend’s family since Thanksgiving.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Bissell-Linsk

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