FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A grieving father burst into anger Tuesday as he spoke to jurors about the Florida school shooter’s daughter Nicholas Cruz murdered with 16 others four years ago, his voice rising as he recounted his “infectious laugh that I can only watch now on TikTok videos”.
Dr Ilan Alhadeff’s moving testimony about his 14-year-old daughter Alyssa marked a second day of tears as one family after another took the witness stand to make heartbreaking statements about their deceased loved ones at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.
Him and his wife, Lori, described Alyssa’s role as captain of her soccer team, the friend others always turned to for advice or a shoulder to cry on, and her plan to become a corporate lawyer. He cried as he said he wouldn’t dance with his daughter at her wedding or see the children she had.
“My eldest daughter, daddy’s girl was taken from me!” cried Alhadeff, internal doctor. “I can watch my friends, my neighbors, my co-workers hang out enjoying their daughters, enjoy all the normal stages, enjoy the normal joys, and I can only watch videos or go to the cemetery to see my daughter.”
He said one of Alyssa’s two younger brothers was too young to understand her death when it happened, but now “asks to visit her sister at the cemetery once in a while”.
“It is not normal!” he said angrily.
Cruz, 23 years old, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October; the trial must only determine whether he is sentenced to death or to life without parole. During the two days of family statements, he showed little emotion, though several of his attorneys wiped away tears and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s voice cracked as she gave instructions. He mostly looks straight ahead or looks down at the table where he is sitting.
As one family testifies, others are sobbing in the gallery waiting their turn. When finished, they stay to lend their support. They exchange packets of tissues, rub shoulders and, at the break, hug each other. Some jurors wipe away tears, but most sit stoically.
Some families had statements read to them. The mother of 14-year-old Martin Duque wrote that although he was born in Mexico, he wanted to become a US Navy Seal. The wife of assistant football coach Aaron Feis wrote that he was a doting father to their young daughter and a mentor to many youngsters.
The mother of 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup wrote that she was a straight student whose letter announcing that she was a semi-finalist for a National Merit Scholarship arrived the day after her death. She wanted to be a doctor and research amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Shara Kaplan sobbed as she told jurors of her two sons’ sadness that they weren’t there to protect their little sister, 18-year-old Meadow Pollack.
Luke Hoyer’s mother, Gina, said the 15-year-old was her “miracle baby”, her “Lukey Bear”. She said he shouted that Valentine’s morning to thank her for the card and the Skittles she placed in his bathroom. The gifts stayed there for a year. His father, Tom, said he never saw his son that morning but shouted “Have a nice day” as he rushed to work. “It’s the kind of exchange you have when you think you have tomorrow,” he said.
Fred Guttenberg, who has become a national advocate for tougher gun laws, said he regrets the last words he said to his 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, weren’t “I love you” but rather “You have to go, you’re gonna be late” as he pushed her outside with his older brother that morning. He said his son was mad at him for him saying to run when he called in a panic to say there was a gunman at school instead of having him find his sister, even though it wouldn’t have made any difference.
His wife, Jennifer Guttenberg, said that while her daughter was known for her competitive dancing, she volunteers with the Humane Society and with children with special needs. She planned to become a pediatric physical therapist.
Annika Dworet, her husband Mitch seated darkly by his side, told the jurors their son Nick, who was 17 when he died. A star swimmer, he had accepted a scholarship to the University of Indianapolis and was training in hopes of competing for his mother’s native Sweden in the 2020 Olympics. His younger brother, Alex, was injured in the shooting .
“He was always inclusive of everyone. On his last night with us, he spent time talking to the younger guys on the swim team, giving them some advice,” she said.
But now, she says, “our hearts will be broken forever.”
“We will always live with excruciating pain. We have an empty room in our house. There is an empty chair at our dining table. Alex will never have a brother to talk to or hang out with. They will never go for a drive again, playing very loud music. We didn’t get to see Nick graduate from high school or college. We will never see him get married.
“We will always hesitate before answering the question: ‘How many children do you have?'”