Nikolas Cruz stays silent in court as thousands of US students stage walkout in gun control protest

Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old accused of killing 17 people in the Florida school shooting last month, sat in court silently on Wednesday, while students across the nation walked out of school to protest gun violence, the sat in court silently, his head bowed.

Shackled, wearing a red jail jumpsuit and with head bowed, Cruz sat motionless in the jury box and said nothing during a brief hearing.

Because he refused to announce his plea, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf on each of the 34 counts he faces – mainly to keep the legal process moving.

His lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, reiterated that Cruz would plead guilty if prosecutors waived the death penalty, which they refused to do.

If he pleaded guilty, McNeill said Cruz would accept a sentence of 34 life terms behind bars. It’s still possible a plea deal could be reached.

Zachary Cruz cries as his brother, Nikolas Cruz is arraigned at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort LauderdaleCredit:

At least 20 green-clad deputies from the Broward Sheriff’s Office formed a tight ring of security around the courtroom. In the audience were several parents of shooting victims as well as Cruz’s younger brother, Zachary.

Cruz is accused of carrying out the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that also wounded 17 people in a case that has reignited a national debate about gun control and school safety.

It also prompted Wednesday’s nationwide walkout. 

Nikolas Cruz is lead out of the courtroom after an arraignment hearing at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort LauderdaleCredit:

Tens of thousands of school pupils across the United States spilled out of their classrooms and demanded tighter gun control in one of the biggest student protests since the Vietnam era.

Young people at nearly 3,000 separate schools and youth groups took part in the coast to coast National School Walkout as they called for measures including an assault weapons ban and universal background checks for gun buyers.

The walkouts were staged at 10am in the different US time zones, meaning the entire event lasted for several hours. Many demonstrations were for 17 minutes, signifying one minute for each victim in Florida.

Lewis Mizen, a Parkland survivor originally from Coventry in the UK, said the support had been "phenomenal".

The 17-year-old, who moved to the US three years ago, added: "We’re all standing up together as the next generation. We want to get the ball rolling, get things happening in Washington and in state capitols.

Thousands of local students march down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the US Capitol during a nationwide student walkout for gun control in Washington, DC, March 14, 2018Credit:

"This is going to be our life mission, something we are going to continue to fight for until the day we die. We’re not going to stop until every child in America can go to school safely."

David Farber a history professor at the University of Kansas, said it was the "biggest youth-oriented and youth-organised protest movement" since the "early Seventies at least".

He added: "Young people are that social media generation and it’s easy to mobilise them in a way that it probably hadn’t been even 10 years ago."

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Students from Washington-Lee High School hold up posters, with pictures of those killed in the Parkland school shooting, during a walk out in Arlington, Virginia on March 14, 2018Credit:

In Washington 2,000 pupils from local schools gathered outside the White House and sat on the ground with their backs turned while a nearby church bell tolled.

They carried signs saying "I should be worrying about my grades, not my life" and "Protect kids not guns".

Pupils then marched down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the US Capitol, passing the Trump International Hotel where they chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go!"

Democrat politicians, including the party’s Senate leader Chuck Schumer, and House leader Nancy Pelosi, walked out of Congress to address them outside the Capitol. Mr Schumer led the crowd in a chant of "We’re going to win."

Senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential hopeful, also walked out and addressed them.

Margo Ogrosky, 14, holding a sign with the names of gun victims outside the Capitol, said: "I’m here today because sometimes I don’t feel safe in school and I want to feel safe."

Aaron Bergman, who was celebrating his 18th birthday and holding a "Gun Control Now" sign, added: "There are significant actions these legislators can take on the national level to reduce the access people have to firearms. It really matters a lot to me."

Students gather outside the U.S. Capitol during walk-outs in support of stricter gun laws in WashingtonCredit:

Another teenager, Charlotte Lindblom, 17, said: "We have to keep going and be persistent. The politicians have to realise that we can vote pretty soon and we can kick them out of office."

Pupils also crammed into a packed hearing of the US Senate judiciary committee where the father of one of the Florida victims addressed senators.

At New York City’s Fiorello H LaGuardia High School pupils poured into the streets of Manhattan. Many were dressed in orange, the colour adopted in recent years by the gun- control movement. They chanted "Enough is enough."

Thousands of local students sit for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 students killed last month in a high school shooting in Florida, during a nationwide student walkout for gun control in front the White House in Washington, DC, March 14, 2018 Credit:

In Florida thousands of pupils at the Parkland school filed onto their football field, applauded by their families, and hugged in the centre.

David Hogg, a survivor of the shooting, said: "Every one of these individuals could have died that day. I could have died that day."

At Columbine High School in Colorado, where two pupils killed 13 people in 1999, young people also gathered on a football field and released balloons.

Some school districts, including in Georgia and Ohio, threatened to discipline pupils who joined the protest, but many walked out anyway.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, a high school pupil was suspended for promoting a walkout with flyers.

MTV and some other youth TV networks went silent for 17 minutes to support the demonstrations.

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