The troubled teenager accused of killing 17 people at a Florida high school excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation.
The grant formed part of a multimillion-dollar effort by the gun group to support youth shooting clubs and other programs of which the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a recipient.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, was wearing a maroon shirt with the training corps logo when he was arrested on Wednesday shortly after the shooting.
Former JROTC cadets told The Associated Press that Cruz was a member of the small varsity marksmanship team that trained together after class and travelled to other area schools to compete.
“He was a very good shot,” said Aaron Diener, 20, who gave Cruz a ride to shooting competitions when they were part of the same four-member team in 2016.
“He had an AR-15 he talked about, and pistols he had shot. … He would tell us, ‘Oh, it was so fun to shoot this rifle’ or ‘It was so fun to shoot that.’ It seemed almost therapeutic to him, the way he spoke about it.”
The JROTC marksmanship program used air rifles special-made for target shooting, typically on indoor ranges at targets the size of a coin.
Records show that the Stoneman Douglas JROTC program received $10,827 in non-cash assistance from the NRA’s fundraising and charitable arm in 2016, when Cruz was on the squad.
The school’s program publicly thanked the NRA Foundation on its Twitter feed.
The top officers of the foundation are all current or former executives of the NRA, but a spokeswoman for the NRA declined to comment on Friday.
The more than 1,700 high school JROTC programs nationally also receive financial support from the US military and are typically supervised by retired officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
The military collaborates with school systems on the training curriculum, which includes marching drills, athletic competitions and shooting teams. Cadets wear military uniforms with ranks and insignias similar to those of the military branch with which they are affiliated.
Authorities say Cruz, who was expelled last year for disciplinary reasons, walked into his former school with an AR-15 and opened fire. He is charged with 17 counts of murder.