Family members of three of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s 17 victims testified on Monday about how their 2018 deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland affected their lives, detailing lost loves, lost moments and even the fading memories.
Student Joaquin Oliver’s sister glared at Cruz as she left the witness box, while the families of student Alaina Petty and teacher Scott Beigel appeared to look away from him. Cruz sat at the defense table, mostly looking down but occasionally glancing at the video screen in front of him.
The jury also saw three chilling cellphone videos made by Cruz in the days before his attack, discussing his plan to kill at least 20 people at Stoneman Douglas, his former school. They also saw text messages he had sent on the day of the attack, Valentine’s Day, to a former girlfriend expressing his unrequited love for her and to a friend asking if he could find her a date. you that night. He did, but the text telling Cruz came just as his Uber was dropping him off at school.
Patricia Oliver, Joaquin’s mother, told the jury of seven men, five women and their 10 alternates that he was a sweet, kind 17-year-old boy and intended to go to college to be able to work in sports management. He was already planning his wardrobe for his graduation in three months, right down to the belt he would wear. She said there was an outpouring of love after her death.
“I didn’t know he had so many friends,” she said, choking back tears. “Our life has been shattered and changed forever.”
Her older sister, Andrea Ghersi, explained that when she has children, she will have to explain to them why they don’t have an uncle. Hate fills her face as she looks at Cruz while walking towards her seat.
Victoria Gonzalez brought tears to at least one juror when she spoke of the loss of her “soul mate”. She talked about their love of movies, how he sang on the car radio and how he met her at the bus stop the morning of her death with Valentine’s Day flowers and a stuffed yellow elephant.
Petty’s mother, Kelly, said she loved helping out in the kitchen and her short stint in the school’s junior reserve officer training corps. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she had helped with hurricane recovery the summer before her death.
“She loved her friends, she loved her family, and most importantly, she loved God,” Kelly Petty said.
Her sister, Meghan, said that while Alaina was the baby of four children in her family, she was in some ways the eldest, displaying a maturity beyond her years. They huddled together to watch television.
“She was an angel on Earth and she should always be here,” she said. She cried saying that she couldn’t remember her sister’s voice.
Beigel’s mother, Linda Schulman, and stepfather, Michael Schulman, spoke of his love for teaching, his students and baseball. His mother said he got the teaching job at Stoneman Douglas because he agreed to coach the cross-country team – although he didn’t know how.
Speaking in a loud voice, Linda Schulman said she told her riders that if they taught him cross country, he would teach them life. When his riders narrowly missed qualifying for the national competition, they asked him what they could do next. She got a laugh when he said he told them, “Run faster.” This remains the motto of the team.
Michael Schulman said that when he told Scott he wanted to marry his mother, he said his only response was, “All I ask is that you make my mother happy.”
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October, meaning the jury will only decide whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole.
Jurors saw the three cellphone videos he made six days before his attack on Monday.
In the first two, he is not seen. Only his voice is heard.
“Today is the day. Today everything begins. The day of my slaughter will begin,” he said in the first. In the second, he says, “When you see me on the news, you you’ll all know who I am. You’re all going to die…. I can’t wait.
In the final video, taken three days before filming, Cruz, wearing a cap, speaks to the camera saying he’s “going to be the next school shooter of 2018.” He ends the video by making gun noises.
In text messages, beginning about 90 minutes before the attack, Cruz tells his ex-girlfriend that he loves her and then asks “Do you want me to go away?”
She replied, “You scare me and I want you to leave me alone.” She told him she had a boyfriend. He replied that he didn’t care. Arriving at school, he texted her once again that he loved her.
Meanwhile, a friend who he had spent several hours texting about a possible date that evening also replied that he had found a girl who would go out with him. This text also arrived when Cruz arrived at school.
“Too late man,” Cruz replied. Three minutes later, the attack began.
When jurors get the case, they will vote 17 times, once for each of the victims, on whether to recommend capital punishment.
For each death sentence, the jury must be unanimous or the sentence for that victim is life. Jurors are told that in order to vote for death, the aggravating circumstances of the prosecution for that victim must, in their opinion, “outweigh” the mitigating circumstances of the defence. A juror can also vote for life out of pity for Cruz. During jury selection, panelists declared under oath that they were able to vote for either sentence.
At school shooter’s trial, families remember lives lost