FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After unleashing six minutes of horror within the hallways of his former highschool, the place he fatally shot 17 folks and injured 17 others, Nikolas Cruz fled to a Subway down the road and purchased himself an Icee.
It was the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2018. Moments earlier, Mr. Cruz, then 19, had terrorized his ex-classmates within the freshman constructing of Marjory Stoneman Douglas Excessive Faculty, going again to shoot a few of his victims once more to verify they have been lifeless.
A Florida prosecutor recounted these and different wrenching particulars on Monday throughout the federal government’s opening assertion within the sentencing trial of Mr. Cruz, now 23, who has pleaded responsible to 17 murders and 17 tried murders. He now faces the dying penalty or life in jail with out the potential for parole.
The painful occasions from that horrible day 4 years in the past introduced many victims’ dad and mom to tears within the somber Fort Lauderdale courtroom, the place prosecutors offered harrowing recordings from inside school rooms besieged by gunfire. A video with the sounds of gunshots and kids screaming was so torturous that, at one level, the mom and father of one of many victims sitting in court docket yelled, “Shut it off!”
What occurred in Parkland has lengthy been investigated and recognized, and the defendant’s guilt was by no means in query. But the experiences of those that survived the assault felt pressing and stunning anew, in no small half as a result of recent outrage from one other spate of mass shootings — together with one in Could that left 19 kids and two lecturers lifeless at an elementary college in Uvalde, Texas — has shaken the nation once more.
“I’m going to talk to you in regards to the unspeakable, about this defendant’s goal-directed, deliberate, systematic homicide — mass homicide — of 14 kids, an athletic director, a trainer and a coach,” Michael J. Satz, the lead prosecutor, stated, giving jurors a timeline of the occasions and reciting, sufferer by sufferer, the place and what number of occasions they have been shot. A number of the jurors, who have been listening intently within the jury field, flinched. The jury is made up of seven males and 5 girls, plus 10 alternates.
The prosecutor described how the defendant, after a lethal rampage by which he fired 139 occasions from a semiautomatic rifle, slipped out of the varsity with different fleeing college students. He ordered the Icee at Subway, sipped it on a bench inside Walmart after which walked into a close-by McDonald’s. There, he unsuccessfully requested a scholar who had run out of the varsity — and whose sister the defendant had simply shot and injured — for a trip. He was arrested a short while later, whereas he was on foot a few mile away from the fast-food restaurant.
In court docket, Mr. Cruz wore glasses, a face masks and a sweater over a collared shirt. He confirmed little seen response throughout the prosecution’s opening, sitting largely hunched over as he seemed to be taking in depth notes and twiddling with a small notepad.
Protection attorneys selected to not give their opening assertion till the prosecution finishes presenting its proof, which might take up a number of weeks of a monthslong trial. Finally, they intend to indicate that Mr. Cruz struggled with a troublesome upbringing and psychological well being issues. They’ve requested permission to indicate jurors a map of his mind, however the decide has but to resolve whether or not to permit it.
Not often does the gunman in a mass capturing face trial — and infrequently do victims’ households sit by disturbing testimony and proof from the assault. However on Monday, the primary prosecution witnesses described in painful element what occurred that day.
Brittany Sinitch, a former Stoneman Douglas scholar who returned to her alma mater after school to show, stated her college students have been writing Valentine’s Day playing cards to at least one one other as “Romeo and Juliet” characters when the loudest sounds possible — one thing she might really feel in her chest — echoed from the hallway.
The scholars went straight into the active-shooter protocol they’d been taught: They turned off the lights, closed the door and hid within the corners. Ms. Sinitch huddled underneath her desk with a number of college students whereas the pictures continued.
“It simply wouldn’t cease. I don’t have an absolute right or correct quantity that I might depend,” she stated. “It simply saved going and going and going.”
In one other classroom, Danielle Gilbert, who was a junior in Superior Placement psychology, recorded cellphone movies from behind her trainer’s desk. She testified on Monday that she and different college students have been like “sitting geese” because the defendant fired into the room, killing one particular person and wounding three others.
The movies, which have been proven to jurors, confirmed college students crouching and whispering in worry as bang after bang rang out. “This may’t be actual,” one scholar whispered. One body confirmed one other cellphone display, of somebody on a name with “Mother.” A number of jurors lined their mouths with their palms as they watched.
Finally, cops arrived. College students who had been kneeling began screaming and wailing on the sight of considered one of their classmates lifeless in a pool of blood. Extra our bodies are seen within the hallway as Ms. Gilbert runs out of the constructing, escorted by armed legislation enforcement.
Although Decide Elizabeth A. Scherer barred the video photographs from being proven to the general public when court docket was in session, the audio might be heard within the courtroom, eliciting sobs from family of the victims and prompting no less than one girl to go away the room in tears. The defendant buried his head in his palms on the protection desk.
Reporters have been allowed to view the movies behind closed doorways after the court docket session concluded. One facet of the Parkland capturing that made it in contrast to earlier assaults was how college students, who have been youngsters with cellphones, recorded a few of the occasions and posted them on social media, giving the general public a glimpse of the horror they skilled.
Killed within the capturing have been Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.
Jurors additionally watched a video from one other classroom, performed at a really loud quantity, following the testimony of Dylan H. Kraemer, who was a junior on the time. “I seemed over, and two folks have been lifeless and a number of folks have been shot,” he stated. So many individuals have been damage that he couldn’t recall all of their names.
The video startled the courtroom viewers and prompted the dad and mom of one of many college students who died in that classroom to yell for the recording to be turned off. Protection attorneys requested for a mistrial because of the exhibiting of the video and of the response of the deceased scholar’s dad and mom. The decide denied the request.
Outdoors the courtroom, remedy canine helped households and different spectators cope throughout recesses.
Mr. Satz stated he deliberate to show seven aggravating components out of the 16 outlined in Florida legislation to justify the dying penalty. Aggravating components embody that the defendant knowingly created a fantastic threat of dying to many individuals, that the murders have been particularly heinous, atrocious or merciless and that they have been dedicated in a chilly, calculated and premeditated method.
These components “far outweigh any mitigating circumstances” within the case, Mr. Satz argued, together with any particulars in regards to the defendant’s psychological well being, childhood, education or remedy.
He instructed jurors he would present them surveillance video from contained in the constructing that captured a lot of the capturing, although he warned that the rifle’s blast was so highly effective it induced mud to fall from the ceiling at some factors, halting the recording from motion-activated cameras.
“However most of it’s there, and you will note it,” he stated.
Close to the start and finish of his opening, which lasted just below an hour, Mr. Satz repeated the defendant’s personal phrases from a cellphone video he recorded three days earlier than the assault.
“I’m going to be the following college shooter of 2018,” the defendant stated.