FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Dara Hass was teaching English to ninth-grade honor students in classroom 1216 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland.
Christopher McKenna, one of her students, said Hass had allowed him to go to the restroom when he ran into Nikolas Cruz, who told him to leave. Hass said her other students were working quietly on their assignments when the gunfire began.
Alexander Dworet, one of her students, said the gunshots sounded like the drums of the MSD band. Hass said she thought it was a drill, so she stood up and started to close the windows. When she turned, one of her students was hurt and the noise got louder.
“It was so loud I remember shaking,” Hass said adding, “The room filled with smoke. It was hazy ... and you could smell the sulfur from the gun and debris was flying across the room. The students were crying.”
Hass, McKenna, and Dworet were among the survivors from classroom 1216 who described the horror during their testimony Tuesday, the second day of Cruz’s death penalty trial. William Olson said he found refuge by Hass’s desk and saw his classmate Kheshava Mangapuram was injured.
“I realize there is blood all over me ... there is blood all over Kheshava ... I can hear the shots still,” said Olson, who is now a University of Florida student.
Dworet said he touched the back of his head and his hand was all bloody and then he looked straight ahead and saw his classmate Alexander Schachter slumped over his desk. Mangapuram said he saw him die instantly. Olson and Dworet both said they saw his body twitching.
“I saw a pile of blood forming under him and I saw his body, not spasming, but more like trying to take its final breaths ... I remember more shots coming in,” Dworet said about witnessing his classmate’s murder.
Cruz never walked inside classroom 1216. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, Cruz shot at the students there at 2:22:39 p.m. and returned to shoot again at 2:22:43 p.m. He shot eight students.
Three died: Schachter, who played the trombone and was a member of the school’s marching band and orchestra; Alaina Petty, a member of the junior ROTC; and Alyssa Alhadeff, a soccer player. They were 14 years old. Five were injured: Olson, Dworet, Mangapuram, Genesis Valentin, and Justin Colton.
“They couldn’t get to safety in a classroom that has nowhere to go,” Hass, who now teaches at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High, said through tears.
Alexander Dworet would later learn that his 17-year-old brother Nicholas Dworet, a competitive swimmer, had died in classroom 1214.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in October. For the death penalty to apply, the jury must unanimously agree. Otherwise, Cruz will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.