The sentencing of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz began Tuesday with victims and family members sharing their heartbreak before him in court.
A jury spared the 24-year-old from the death penalty last month, instead handing down a recommendation of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three staff members.
Survivors of the shooting and victims' loved ones had the chance to deliver impact statements before the sentence will be formally announced.
With so many wishing to be heard, the actual sentencing is expected to take place Wednesday, according to the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
'We are broken': Family members lash out at shooter, his attorneys
Stacey Lippel, a teacher at Parkland who was shot and survived, told Cruz: “You don’t know me but you tried to kill me."
"I will have a scar on my arm and the memory of you pointing your gun at me ingrained in my brain forever," she said before the court, looking the shooter in the eyes.
She said she's left with feelings of horror and guilt.
“Horror at the memories of what you left behind in your wake and the guilt that I am left with because I wish I could’ve done more to save my co-workers and students who you killed," she said.
Judge Elizabeth Scherer called Lippel a hero and thanked her for her service in trying to protect students.
Debbi Hixon, the widow of Chris Hixon, a teacher who ran into the school to try to stop the shooter, told the gunman: “I hope that your name and existence are erased from society.”
The parents of Ben Wikander, a student who survived being shot in the back, abdomen and arm, spoke of his agonizing pain and long road to recovery — saying he still has a ways to go.
“Whatever pain you experience in prison will unfortunately be a fraction of what Ben endured,” his father, Eric Wikander, said.
The gunman, wearing glasses and a mask, appeared to make eye contact with the speakers as they faced him.
Meghan Petty, the sister of Parkland victim Alaina Petty, 14, was visibly emotional as she spoke.
“I feel betrayed by our justice system,” she said.
"The defendant and I are the same age. And I can say for a fact that at the time he murdered Alaina, he was old enough and mentally aware to understand the permanence of death, what that meant," she said.
"I was bullied in school, I've lost 15 family members and loved ones since I turned 9. … Not once have I ever turned to hurting others as a solution to make me feel better, because I'm not a coward," she said. "And I’m not weak."
"After witnessing these proceedings, it appears to me that we coddle, protect and even reward weakness of evil in a person," she said.
Patricia Oliver, the mother of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver, 17, lashed out at the defense counsel, saying they exhibited “shameful despicable behavior” in representing Cruz.
She pointed to every attorney repeating, “I am broken.”
"We are broken. Me, our family and friends are shattered forever," she said.
Max Schachter, the father of Parkland victim Alex Schachter, 14, argued that Cruz had received a spate of mental health help and called out the defense lawyers for claiming that he had fallen through the cracks.
“There’s so many people in this country who suffer mental illness — they’re not going out torturing and murdering innocent people," he said.
Anthony Montalto III, the brother of victim Gina Montalto, recalled getting a text message that said she would not be coming home. Not wanting to believe it, Montalto said he rode his bicycle home and yelled for his parents. Later that evening, he learned that she had been killed.
"It's a great pain that only I feel. To go from a younger brother to an only child in less than six hours is a dramatic change for anyone," he said. "Every day I wish that I could come home and see her again."
Montalto went on to talk about Cruz being spared the death penalty, saying he hopes the jury regrets their decision.
Before noon, the defense lawyers objected to victim impact statements that attacked them. The prosecutors argued that this was the time for victims and loved ones to share their thoughts without restraint.
'Will it make me feel better?' One parent says he won't speak in court
Fred Guttenberg, the father of shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg, 14, said on Twitter that he won’t give an impact statement at the hearing, saying, “Will it make me feel better?”
"I have decided that it simply won’t change reality or the way I feel. It won’t make me feel better. The reality is that I will still visit Jaime at the cemetery and the monsters fate will not change. It has already been decided," he wrote.
"My future will no longer be dependent on the need to get through a criminal trial and wondering what will happen. That has been decided," he explained. "My life is no longer dependent on the outcome of this trial and delivering another impact statement will not make me feel better and so I will not be doing so today."
The jury’s recommendation of life in prison last month was met with tears and outrage by family members of the victims, with many saying the shooter deserved the death penalty.
The 12-person jury had to unanimously agree to back a death sentence. In the three-month penalty trial, the defense argued the gunman was mentally ill and should be spared.
The gunman pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder in the massacre.