(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 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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