(NEW YORK) — Family members of the 17 students and staff killed in the Parkland high school massacre are addressing gunman Nikolas Cruz in victim impact statements in court on Tuesday before Cruz is formally sentenced to life in prison.
Last month, a Florida jury rejected prosecutors’ appeals for the death penalty, reaching a verdict on life in prison for the 2018 mass shooting Cruz committed at age 19 at South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Many victims’ parents were outraged by the verdict, arguing that sparing Cruz the death penalty may send a bad message to future school shooters.
The jury’s decision needed to be unanimous to sentence Cruz to death.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Nov 02, 4:51 PM EDT
Shooter sentenced to life in prison
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced Cruz to life in prison, with the 34 counts of the indictment to be served consecutively.
She announced the sentence after determining she was confident that Cruz, who pleaded guilty to his charges, understood the court proceedings.
Cruz was sentenced on 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.
Scherer granted a motion under Florida’s so-called Son of Sam law, meaning Cruz cannot benefit monetarily from his crimes.
Prior to announcing the sentencing, Scherer commended the victims and victims’ families for their grace and patience throughout the trial.
“I can’t help but think how I would behave or respond if I were in your shoes,” she said.
Nov 02, 4:45 PM EDT
Joaquin Oliver’s family speaks out against defense comments
Like others who addressed the court Wednesday, Andrea Ghersi said she wasn’t planning to make a statement until Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes objected in court Tuesday to rhetoric used by victims’ families and expressed concerns for the defense’s children.
“I decided I would not allow any of you to make us out to be the kind of people that resort to any kind of threats, especially threats toward children,” said Ghersi, whose 17-year-old brother, Joaquin Oliver, was killed in the shooting. “No one in this courtroom has had to go through what we have had to go through.”
To the defense, she urged them to “learn to live with the fact that you condone the slaughter of 17 innocents.”
“I promise you that one day, I don’t know when, you will ask yourself, ‘Did I make the right decision?"” she continued.
Oliver’s father, Manuel Oliver, called the defense team’s concerns over their children amid the trial “ironic and unreal.”
“What about our children?” he said.
Nov 02, 4:35 PM EDT
Scott Beigel’s father: ‘The system failed’
The father of 35-year-old Scott Beigel, a geography teacher and cross-country coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said the “system failed.”
“The fact that I have to share my world with you is disgusting,” he said, addressing Cruz during his statement. “The fact that I have to breathe the same air you breathe is reprehensible.”
He called Cruz a coward, among several expletives, and said he hopes for “prison justice.”
“I have to learn to live with the pain that you caused to my entire family,” he said. “You are the lowest form of pond scum, and I apologize to pond scum for equating you with them.”
He said his son was kind, had character and cared for his fellow human beings — “something you never did,” he said to Cruz.
His wife, Linda Schulman, recalled how her son managed to save 31 students during the shooting.
She read the names of the 17 victims killed in the shooting, including her “irreplaceable son.”
“These are the innocent lives that we will remember and celebrate forever,” she said.
Nov 02, 4:24 PM EDT
Jaime Guttenberg’s parents slam public defender’s comments
Jennifer Guttenberg said she wasn’t planning to speak in court, but she changed her mind after comments made by Broward County Public Defender Gordon Weekes in court on Tuesday.
“Yesterday, the elected public defender said that nobody had to endure what this defense has endured,” said Guttenberg, the mother of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, who was killed in the shooting.
She went on to list some of the rules and restrictions the victims’ families had to endure during the trial, including not wearing clothing related to their loved ones or have “major reactions or facial expressions” in response to what was said during the trial.
“And as a reminder, Mr. Weekes, and the rest of the defense attorneys, your client murdered our loved ones in cold blood. Hunted them down, shot them over and over until he knew he accomplished his goal,” she said.
Jaime’s father, Fred Guttenberg, who also had not planned to give another statement in court, said he and his wife have had to endure Father’s Day and Mother’s Day without their daughter.
“We’ve had to endure spending our time for birthdays at a cemetery,” he said.
At the end of his statement, he said he wants to see Weekes resign “before the end of the day today.”
Nov 02, 4:01 PM EDT
‘I wish you had more love in your heart’
Parkland shooting survivor Victoria Gonzalez gave a statement regarding her boyfriend, 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, who was killed in the massacre.
She was wearing a yellow shirt with the words “Tu con balas, yo con bolas.” It was the same shirt, she told Cruz, that Oliver was wearing “the night before you killed him.”
The saying means, “You with bullets, I with balls,” in Spanish.
“Crazy enough, he knew what was coming,” she said of Oliver.
As a classmate of Cruz, she said that she was rooting for him.
“I felt like you needed someone or you needed something, and I could feel that,” she said. “I felt how alone you might have felt, maybe.”
Now, she said, she feels alone.
“I’m very isolated and I can’t make friends and I can’t build relationships because I’m looking over my shoulder, even emotionally,” she said.
“I wish you had more love in your heart,” she said.
Nov 02, 3:50 PM EDT
Mother of victim expresses shock at verdict
April Schentrup wrote that she hoped the trial and verdict would provide “some level of accountability” for the murder of her daughter, 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup. But that was not the case, she wrote, in a statement read by Tamika Collins in court.
“Although one death sentence does not even come close to the 17 homicides and 17 attempted homicides he committed, I am still shocked at how members of this jury could decide a life sentence for someone whose life goal was to harm and kill others,” she wrote.
She stated that the verdict sends the message to “potential mass shooters” that their lives might be spared.
“It is clear a few members of this jury value Carmen’s life and the lives of 16 others less than the shooter’s,” she wrote. “It is also clear that they do not value the lives of future victims that will come about because of their decision.”
Carmen’s father, Philip Schentrup, remembered his “amazing,” “funny” and “selfless” daughter in a statement read by Juan Vicente in court.
“Carmen was bursting forth from her cocoon,” he wrote. “The only thing that could stop Carmen were bullets fired from the rifle of a pathetic and vile coward.”
His daughter was failed by “every institution in our country,” including the legal system, he wrote.
“There is no justice for Carmen, and the 16 other murdered victims,” he wrote.
Nov 02, 3:01 PM EDT
Victim describes life after surviving shooting
Samantha Fuentes, a former classmate of Cruz, spoke of her life after the tragedy and the trauma of being a survivor of the mass school shooting.
“I always have PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations,” she said in court.
She said she lives in “constant fear” of someone like Cruz.
She said she was angry with the verdict, though, unlike Cruz, “I’ll never take my anger, pain and suffering out on others because I am stronger than you.”
The mother of Alyssa Alhadeff remembered her daughter’s “beautiful smile and contagious laugh.”
But she also remembered seeing her 14-year-old daughter in the medical examiner’s office after she was killed in the Parkland shooting.
“All I wanted to do was to bring Alyssa back to life. But I couldn’t protect her, and I couldn’t save her,” Lori Alhadeff said during her statement in court.
She addressed Cruz, speaking angrily.
“My hope for you is that you are miserable for the rest of your pathetic life,” she said. “My hope for you is that the pain of what you did to my family burns and traumatizes you every day.”
Alyssa’s father, Ilan Marc Alhadeff, said the verdict brings no accountability or closure.
“What I see is that the system values this animal’s life over the 17 now dead,” he said. “Worse, we sent the message to the next killer out there that the death penalty would not be applied to mass killers. This is wrong and needs to be fixed immediately.”
Alyssa’s uncle also addressed the court via Zoom at the start of the hearing, remembering her as being full of empathy and care.
He finished his statement with strong words for Cruz: “Rot in hell.”
Nov 02, 2:08 PM EDT
‘How much worse would the crime have to be to warrant death penalty?’
Annika Dworet, whose son Nicholas Dworet was killed, expressed disappointment at the jury’s decision not to recommend the death penalty.
“We sat in this courtroom every day during this trial. We listened to every witness. We saw every piece of evidence,” she said. “It is heartbreaking how any person who heard and saw all this did not give this killer the worst punishment possible.”
“How much worse would the crime have to be to warrant death penalty?” she asked.
She said she also was offended by the behavior of the defense team during the trial, including “holding, touching and giggling with this cold-blooded murder.”
Nov 01, 1:49 PM EDT
‘He shouldn’t live while my sister rots in a grave’
Anthony Montalto, whose older sister, 14-year-old Gina, was killed, recalled his parents coming home the night of Feb. 14, 2018, with tears in their eyes, telling him his only sibling was dead.
He said he wishes he said goodbye to her that morning.
“I will never be able to watch TV with her, talk about books with her. Every day I walk by her room and see that it’s empty. … Every day I wake up and I remember that she will not be there,” Montalto said.
He called Nikolas Cruz a “murdering bastard” and said Cruz should’ve been sentenced to death.
“He shouldn’t live while my sister rots in a grave,” Montalto said.
Montalto said he hopes the jurors who voted for a life sentence regret their decision after hearing his testimony.
Nov 01, 12:29 PM EDT
Fred Guttenberg on why he’s not giving another statement in court
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed, chose not to deliver a new statement in court on Tuesday.
He tweeted, “My life is no longer dependent on the outcome of this trial and delivering another impact statement will not make me feel better.”
Guttenberg said the statement he gave earlier during the trial “had to meet legal requirements” and couldn’t refer to the crime or “refer to the murderer as a murderer or a killer.”
“During the sentencing today, we will be given a chance to make another statement and to say anything that we want. But will it make me feel better? We can say whatever we want to the murderer who committed the crime,” he continued. “I could talk about sitting with the State Attorney last week and finally watching the actual video of Jaime getting shot and how I felt with the way … she made it to within one second of safety, only for him to kill her with a single AR 15 shot.”
“We can say whatever we want to the jurors who made the wrong decision” and “whatever we want to the defense team that gave up its humanity to defend the monster,” Guttenberg wrote.
But with Nikolas Cruz’s fate already decided, “I have no need to think about him or to address him,” Guttenberg said.
“I will think about him only two more times. The first time will be when I sit and watch the formal sentencing. The second time will be when I read news reporting of the prison justice that he will eventually receive,” he said. “Going forward, I plan to focus more on those I love.”
Nov 01, 12:15 PM EDT
Survivor recalls ‘accepting my death’ on classroom floor
Ellen Mayor read a statement in court on behalf of her daughter, Samantha Mayor, who was shot through the knee and survived.
Samantha Mayor in her statement called the shooting the “most fearful day of my life, when I was laying on the floor unable to move and terrified to speak. I remember accepting my death at that moment and reminding myself that my friends and family know that I love them.”
She said she’s afraid of tight spaces, always searches for exits and is startled by noises. Samantha Mayor also said she’s fearful of when she’ll eventually send her own children to school.
“I’ve learned that the beginning of every year brings a lot of heartache for me … for the anniversary of when I saw death before my eyes. Carmen, I think about you every day and it never hurts less,” she said, referring to Carmen Schentrup, 16, who was killed.
She said she’s “devastated” by the life sentence.
“Now we all have to breathe the same air of someone who wanted us to never take another breath,” she said.
Nov 01, 12:05 PM EDT
Mom slams officials
Anne Ramsay, mother of 17-year-old victim Helena Ramsay, called Nikolas Cruz “pure evil.”
She said the last text from Helena was a smiley face because she added a cookie into her daughter’s lunch that Valentine’s Day.
Ramsay also slammed the school district and sheriff’s office, who she alleged treated her family differently due to race.
She recalled when a reporter asked her if Cruz would have been shot if he was Black.
If Cruz was Black, Ramsay said, she thinks he would have been stopped before even entering the gate to the school.
“This is how we are treated,” she said.
Nov 01, 11:38 AM EDT
‘You can’t fix evil,’ dad says
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, was killed, noted on Tuesday that, when families gave statements earlier during the penalty phase trial, they were prohibited from talking about Nikolas Cruz, the crime “and the punishment that he deserves.”
Schachter accused Cruz’s defense attorneys of “making the mental health crisis in America worse by misrepresenting what actually happened to the Parkland murderer.”
“The defense, in their closing argument, said if he had just had the proper diagnosis, things would be different,” Schacter said. “Nothing would’ve changed. … He was on medicine after medicine … and he still wants to kill.”
Cruz grew up “in a loving home” with a mother who tried to help him, Schachter said.
“He had well over 200 individual sessions with mental health professionals. … They tried everything, they couldn’t have given him more services,” Schachter continued.
“But you can’t fix evil,” he said.
“He hunted down innocent children and staff, terrified then tortured them, blew their heads apart like a water balloon and enjoyed it,” Schachter said.
He said Cruz “does not deserve to live amongst us.”
Schachter said, in prison, Cruz “gets to receive phone calls, boxes of fan mail. He gets to fall in love and get married. He gets a tablet to email and text people. He gets to receive visitors. He gets to watch TV … and even get a college degree.”
Schachter noted that today marks his birthday. He said his birthday wish each year will be for Cruz to “suffer a painful, painful violent death.”
After Schachter spoke, Cruz’s attorney said families are sending a bad message by attacking defense lawyers, jurors and the judicial system.
Nov 01, 11:02 AM EDT
Victim’s sister calls Cruz ‘remorseless monster’
Meghan Petty, sister of 14-year-old victim Alaina Petty, said she feels “betrayed by our justice system” with the jury rejecting the death penalty, and feels vulnerable sharing her pain with the public.
Alaina was shot multiple times, including through the heart, she said. Alaina died scared on a classroom floor, trying to hide behind a desk, she said.
“This entire ordeal has pushed me to my emotional, physical and mental limits. It will continue to do so for the rest of my life, even more so now that he has escaped being punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Petty said.
She called Nikolas Cruz a “remorseless monster who deserves no mercy.”
“This incredible darkness that he has within him — which has been labeled here as mental illness — is something that should be considered unacceptable and intolerable,” Petty said. But she said his life sentence sends the message to future shooters that “if one stretches the truth, they can get away with not only murder, but mass murder.”
“What we’ve been told here is 17 lives are worth nothing if you can make enough excuses for your actions,” she said.
Petty noted that she and Cruz are the same age.
“I could sit here and complain, as he has, that I’ve had a hard life. I was bullied in school. I’ve lost 15 family members and loved ones since I turned 9 to sickness, suicide, accident and now murder. Not once have I turned to ever hurting others … because I’m not a coward and I’m not weak,” she said.
“I will never get to say goodbye to her,” she said of her sister. “She’s never going to go to college, get a job, get married … or even breathe again. But he’ll be able to draw breath.”
Nov 01, 10:40 AM EDT
Victim’s daughter-in-law calls Cruz a domestic terrorist
On the day of the shooting, Ines Hixon, daughter-in-law of slain coach Chris Hixon, was deployed on a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of Iran.
“He would’ve given the shirt off his back. He was a courageous, loving and wonderful man. And I never got the chance to tell him that,” she said through tears.
“As a service member, I took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. And to the defendant, that’s exactly what I view you as — a domestic terrorist,” Ines Hixon said. “I wish no peace for you. I wish nothing but pain. And I hope that every breath you take, you remember that’s a breath you stole.”
After Ines Hixon spoke, Judge Elizabeth Scherer called her a “hero,” adding that her “beautiful family” has “made such an impression on this court.”
“I thank you for your service and bravery,” the judge added.
Nov 01, 10:22 AM EDT
Mom to Cruz: ‘Your living hell is about to get started’
Patricia Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was among the victims, said in an impassioned statement, if this case “doesn’t deserve the death penalty, what does?”
“You had in your head enjoyment,” she said directly to Nikolas Cruz. “Listen to me, defendant — enjoyment while killing my son, Joaquin Oliver, and coming back to him to blow his brain out.”
“Your living hell is about to get started,” she said. “Joaquin is a legend for what he is and for what he will be. Nice,
Nov 01, 10:06 AM EDT
Parents of injured teen say he’s still recovering
Bree Wikander was overcome with emotion as she spoke on behalf of her son, Ben, who was shot three times, including in the back. Ben was 17 at the time and suffered extensive injuries.
“One of Ben’s trauma surgeons … once said to us, Ben sustained injuries similar to what a soldier would in combat,” she said.
“To this day he is still recovering,” Bree Wikander said. “You will never understand the pain that he has gone through. His life and the lives of our entire family have changed forever both physically and mentally.”
Ben’s father, Eric Wikander, said he hopes Cruz has a “painful existence” in prison, adding that it would still be “a fraction of what Ben endured.”
Nov 01, 9:51 AM EDT
Victim’s grandma tells Cruz to ‘burn in hell’
Terri Rabinovitz, grandmother of 14-year-old victim Alyssa Alhadeff, said Florida’s Supreme Court should reexamine the law that requires a jury’s decision be unanimous for the death penalty.
“I’m too old to see you live out your life sentence, but I hope your every breathing moment here on earth is miserable and you repent for your sins, Nikolas, and burn in hell,” she said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has called on the state legislature to change the death sentencing rules in the wake of the Cruz verdict.
Nov 01, 9:35 AM EDT
‘You did not receive the justice that you deserve’
Debbie Hixon, wife of Chris Hixon, a 49-year-old coach killed in the school shooting, addressed Nikolas Cruz directly on Tuesday morning.
She said her husband “was stolen from us by an unimaginable act that you planned and executed.”
“You did not receive the justice that you deserve,” she said. “You were given a gift — a gift of grace and mercy. Something you did not show to any of your victims. I wish nothing for you today. After today I don’t care what happens to you … you’ll be a number.”
“Today we close this chapter,” Hixon continued.
She said she’ll choose to remember all of the positive memories of her husband, instead of the “darkness.”
Nov 01, 7:03 AM EDT
Outraged parents: ‘This jury failed our families’
Hours after the sentence was announced on Oct. 13, Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was among the victims, told ABC News Live he had hoped for the death penalty.
“Even the death penalty was not enough for me,” he said. “The way that Joaquin died … the amount of suffering and pain, the shooter will have never received that punishment.”
His wife, Patricia Oliver, told ABC News she feels enraged by the jury’s decision, and said her son did not get justice.
To jurors who voted against the death penalty, she said, “They have to live with that in their conscience. Life is about karma. They will remember what they did when the time comes.”
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the massacre, said he was “stunned” by the verdict.
“I could not be more disappointed,” he told reporters on Oct. 13. “I don’t know how this jury came to the conclusions that they did.”
“This decision today only makes it more likely that the next mass shooting will be attempted,” he said.
Guttenberg said he thinks the next mass shooter is planning his attack now, and “that person now believes that they can get away with it.”
“There are 17 victims that did not receive justice today,” Guttenberg said. “This jury failed our families today. But I will tell you: The monster is gonna go to prison, and in prison, I hope and pray, he receives the kind of mercy from prisoners that he showed to my daughter and the 16 others. … He will die in prison, and I will be waiting to read that news on that.”
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