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Parkland survivors tell their story

New Hampshire Sunday News

February 17. 2018 10:02PM
The Kruse family - from left, Nick, 14, Cathleen, Doug and William, 17 - moved from Manchester to Parkland, Fla., nine years ago. Last week, a gunman opened fire at the high school the boys attend, killing 17. (Courtesy photo)

Brothers William and Nick Kruse had seen the TV images from other communities: lines of terrified students pouring out of a school building; anguished parents clutching each other.

Last week, it happened at their school.

Doug Kruse is a former Manchester school board member. In 2009, he and his wife Cathleen and their two sons moved to Parkland, Fla.

Now Parkland has joined the long list of American communities traumatized by school shootings.

A 19-year-old former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, killing 14 students and three staff members.

William Kruse, 17, is a senior there; his brother Nick, 14, is a freshman. They told their story in a Saturday phone interview.

When William realized that what he first thought was another fire drill was actually an active shooter, his first thought was his little brother. "Honestly, that's the first thing I worried about," he said.

William's class had crowded into a supply closet, where the 20 or so students started texting friends to find out what was going on. They were hearing that the gunshots were coming from the freshman building.

William texted Nick and waited for long, anxious minutes before he got a response. He also texted his parents to say they were both OK.

Then FBI agents came in. "They kind of cleared all the rooms and made sure everything was safe," he said. "They had us run outside."

As he walked away, he turned and saw "100 to 200 police cars and SWAT vehicles" swarming the campus, he said. And that's when he realized, "this is pretty bad."

Nick Kruse was in math class in a building across from where the shootings happened. When the fire alarm went off for the second time that day, his class filed outside. "We heard a loud noise, but we weren't sure what it was," he said. "So we kept going, a little slower."

Then he saw a security guard running toward the building and the teachers told everyone to get back inside. The students huddled in a corner of the classroom.

They heard more gunfire, but didn't recognize it at the time, Nick said. "We thought it was just a drill."

The students had been expecting a drill, to practice the school's new "code red" active shooter procedures. They never got the chance.

In Nick's classroom, a SWAT team arrived after about 90 minutes and led the students out single-file. "We had our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, kind of like a conga line," Nick said.

"It's a little unbelievable," he said. "You see it on TV and you think: This won't happen to us; this won't happen nearby. When it actually does, it doesn't feel real."

William said some students in his classroom were frantically trying to reach friends. "It was tough," he said. And once they got outside, "I saw a lot of people running and screaming."

The Kruse boys knew some of the students who were killed: Alyssa Alhadeff, Meadow Pollack, Martin Duque, Luke Hoyer, Alex Schachter and Nicholas Dworet. They're also mourning the loss of Chris Hixon, their school's athletic director, and Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach.

William also knew Nikolas Cruz, who authorities say has confessed to the rampage. He saw Cruz last Monday, two days before the shootings, at the Dollar Store where Cruz worked.

"He seemed pretty normal," William said. "He was smiling."

But he remembers even in junior high, Cruz was a troubled kid. "We would hear these crazy stories of weird things happening and it was usually him," he said. He remembers Cruz kicked out a window in a portable classroom during school testing one year.

On Friday, the FBI admitted that it had failed to investigate a Jan. 5 tip that Cruz owned a gun and might commit a school shooting. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of FBI procedures.

And Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff Scott Israel said his office had received about 20 "calls for service" in recent years regarding Cruz, and would scrutinize all of them to see if they were handled properly.

Nick went to a vigil last Thursday night that drew thousands at a town park. "It was good to see my friends and know they were all right," he said. "I think that just made me feel better."

William said he doesn't want what happened at their school "to just become another number."

"I don't want it to just be forgotten," he said. "It's a big thing. We need to do something."

He said he doesn't know why school shootings are happening so often. But, he said, "Something definitely has changed."

Maybe technology is part of it, he said. "People don't really talk to each other anymore. Everyone's just kind of sitting there in their own world with their own screen. Maybe that has something to do with it."

The brothers are not looking forward to going back to school. "It'll be hard," Nick said. "There's going to be some people who aren't going to be there anymore."

It will be especially difficult, his brother said, for those who lost friends or were in the building. "I can't even imagine," he said.

The youth adviser from the family's church stopped by last week to talk and pray with the boys. Nick said his faith has helped him deal with what happened, "knowing that my friends were OK in heaven."

William said while he and his classmates hid in the closet, he prayed "that everyone would be safe and we'd make it out all right."

"And it was answered; we were fine," he said.

The Kruse family was reunited about four hours after the ordeal began; they got pizza and watched the news coverage on TV. And, Doug Kruse said, "We spent a good bit of the night reassuring people that our boys were home safe."

He said he can't fathom what the families of those killed are going through. "It's a struggle to do this with two boys who were there, and lived," he said.

But he said he's touched by the outpouring of love and prayers from folks in New Hampshire, across the country and even around the world. "The prayers people are lifting up for our city, for the families who lost loved ones, it makes a huge difference," he said. "Our city's hurting but our city's also healing."

Nick said he's not sure how what happened will affect his life. "I guess I'll be more mindful of what's going on," he said.

And William said it has strengthened his resolve to join the Marines and become a SWAT officer. "After going through this and seeing what people go through, I definitely want to do that and help out as much as I can," he said. "People shouldn't have to go through something like this. It's just terrible."

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