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Victims, families face raw emotion as Parkland killer pleads guilty

‘He has sucked the energy out of so many people,’ Debra Hixon says

Parents of the deceased heard Nikolas Cruz plead guilty to 17 murders and offer an apology. They were unmoved and many still want him to face the death penalty.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Debra Hixon said the hardest part wasn’t hearing the Parkland killer speak when he pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

It was listening to prosecutor Michael Satz describe in painstaking detail how Nikolas Cruz executed the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Feb. 14, 2018, when Hixon’s husband Chris was among the 17 killed.

“We should be honoring the victims,” said Hixon, now an elected Broward County school board member whose office is about a block away from the courthouse. “We heard what happened, you heard what happened to all those people. ... We have to and stop giving this person any more energy, and that’s really what I want to say today. He has sucked all of the energy out of so many people, and we have to stop allowing him the power to take anything else from us.”

Cruz faces either life in prison or the death penalty, which will be decided by a jury expected to be selected for a penalty phase in early January.

As Cruz, 23, entered his guilty plea Wednesday in a Broward courtroom, there were tears and hugs among families of the victims.

For those families and some survivors of the mass shooting, it was the first time they had come face to face with the confessed killer since that tragic day.

Cruz made a statement after pleading guilty, in which he apologized to the victims and their families and asked them to allow him to live, despite it being clarified by Judge Elizabeth Scherer that that isn’t their decision.

“Quite frankly, we were very surprised to hear him speak and really have no interest in what he said,” said Tony Montalto, who lost his daughter 14-year-old daughter Gina in the school massacre. “If he wanted to do something for our families, then he shouldn’t have killed our loved ones. Let’s just make that clear.”

Fred Guttenberg, the father of slain student Jaime Guttenberg, wipes his eyes as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Anthony Borges was among the victims at court. He was critically injured in the shootings but survived.

“That’s not my right,” Borges said when asked whether Cruz should get the death penalty. “I’m not God to make the decision to kill him or not. That’s not my decision. My decision is to be a better person and to change the world. I don’t want this to happen again. it hurts, it really really hurts.”

Borges did say that he accepts Cruz’s apology.

Some parents of slain students found the killer’s apology self-serving and said Cruz does deserve the death penalty.

“I think as a society we should prosecute the people who commit these heinous acts to the fullest extent of the law,” Montalto said. “We need to find a way to prevent others from wanting to copy them.”

Gena and Tom Hoyer, the parents of murder victim Luke Hoyer, and leave the courtroom at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, after Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to murder in the 2018 massacre that left 17 dead at a Parkland, Fla., high school.

Gena Hoyer, who lost her 15-year-old son Luke, said: “I didn’t care what he had to say. I was shocked he was able to speak, and it was very uncomfortable.”

Thomas Hixon, who lost his father Chris, the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, said: “We’re hoping for the death penalty because that’s the best way that he will hopefully actually feel some bit of remorse or some bit of what we had to go through or what our loved ones went through.”

For Linda Beigel Schulman — who lost her 35-year-old son Scott Beigel, a teacher and coach at MSD — it comes down to which punishment would be harsher for Cruz.

“Whichever means makes him suffer more, I want him to suffer. Because I want him to suffer the way he’s made all of us suffer,” Schulman said via video conference because she didn’t attend the plea hearing. “Every day we suffer. Every time we talk about it we suffer.”

“I think killing him death by injection is too peaceful,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow, 16, was killed in the shooting. “Get him out of the jail and put him in the prison where he gets prison justice.”

While Cruz’s plea avoids a lengthy trial to determine his guilt, hearing the prosecution recite the details of his crimes was harrowing for families of the victims.

Debra Hixon, left, and Annika Dworet embrace during a court recess, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., following Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.

Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son Joaquin “Guac” Oliver was murdered, wasn’t in the courtroom but reacted to hearing the details of his son’s death of the first time.

“The fact that Joaquin was shot twice and then there was time to recharge, go back to shoot him again, it tells me that he was not dead,” Oliver said. “So there’s a lot of suffering.”

Oliver told Local 10 News last week that “not even the death penalty, would in any way balance what happened to my son.”

After watching the guilty plea from out of state Wednesday?

“My anger is bigger, my expectations of what I need to do now are higher, and its time for us to close this and move on,” he said.


About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

Roy Ramos joined the Local 10 News team in 2018. Roy is a South Florida native who grew up in Florida City. He attended Christopher Columbus High School, Homestead Senior High School and graduated from St. Thomas University.