FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The prosecution team that is seeking the death penalty for the Parkland school shooter continued to call the relatives of the slain victims to read statements at Broward County court on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale.
Gena Hoyer said her beautiful 15-year-old son Luke Hoyer was her “surprise baby” and losing him on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland still causes “indescribable” pain.
“I am heartbroken. A piece of my heart is missing. My life and my family will never be the same,” Hoyer said in her victim statement.
Luke Hoyer’s sister, Abby Hoyer, and his father Tom Hoyer also read statements. Assistant Public Defenders Tamara Curtis, Melisa McNeil, and Nawal Najet Bashimam wiped away tears after they spoke.
“What you see now is a broken family,” Tom Hoyer said later adding, “I don’t know that I will ever find real peace.”
Shara Kaplan, the mother of 17-year-old Meadow Pollack, was in tears before she even began to read her statement. Meadow was among the students who died on the third floor of the 1200 building.
“To try to articulate how it is affecting me would be for me to rip my heart out and present it to you shattered in a million pieces,” Kaplan said through tears, briefly looking up at the jury. “It has destroyed my life and my capability of ever living a productive existence.
“I am only able to carry on for the deep love I have for my boys Huck and Hunter.”
Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg sat together behind the stand. He said his last words to his 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg were, “You’ve got to go. You are going to be late!” And not, “I love you.” This, he said, still haunts him as he lives with “immeasurable” grief and suffering.
“This broke me. It changed the person who I am,” Fred Guttenberg said.
Jennifer Guttenberg said sometimes crying physically hurts as she lives with trauma. She said her son Jesse Guttenberg was very protective of “beautiful and precious” Jaime, so on the day she died, he drove her to school. She was a freshman and he was a 17-year-old senior.
Fred Guttenberg said his son was mad at him because he told him to run away from the building instead of going back to save her. The grieving father said his son wishes it was him who was dead.
“He struggles immensely with survivor’s guilt ... he fears losing his family,” Jennifer Guttenberg said about her son’s pain.
Lori Alhadeff, a member of the Broward County School Board, said she lost her only daughter and “the heartbeat” of the family. Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Vickie L. Cartwright was in the courtroom to show her support.
As time passes, Lori Alhadeff said, “the pain doesn’t subside and the grief doesn’t lessen.”
Alhadeff’s husband, Dr. Ilan Marc Alhadeff, said they will always miss their 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa Alhadeff.
“This is not normal for young boys growing up. They should not know of such sorrow, such loss, and tragedy,” Dr. Alhadeff said about Alyssa’s brothers’ grief.
He later added from the stand: “A piece of my heart was not just cut out, it was ripped off my chest … I burn like a darn inferno … Unfortunately, I have to live my life with anger.”
Alyssa’s grandmother Theresa Robinovitz also read a statement saying she is tortured by sleepless nights and anger. She said her murder shattered hearts and her absence during family celebrations and soccer games is deeply felt.
“Words alone cannot express the pain and anguish,” Robinovitz said.
Mitch and Annika Dworet, the parents of MSD victim Nicholas Dworet, also responded to the stand. His mother referred to him as her beautiful boy and said he dreamed of becoming a Swedish Olympian.
“We will always live with excruciating pain,” Annika Dworet said.
Representatives read statements about 14-year-old Martin Duque, 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup, and 37-year-old Aaron Feis.
Before the victim statements, Broward Sheriff’s Office crime laboratory manager Jorge “George” Bello held up the AR-15 the shooter used.
Bello, the 64th witness during the penalty phase, said he examined Nikolas Cruz’s Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle and the mix of .223 and 5.56 ammunition used at the school’s 1200 building.
“The 5.56 has more powder and so the velocity of the projectile itself leaving the barrel is higher ... If a .223 is coming out of the weapon, typically is around 3,000 feet per second. If a 5.56 is coming out of it, it can range but is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,200 feet per second to 4,000 feet per second ... Something like a 9mm handgun is going to have a velocity somewhere around 1,000 to 1,500 feet per second.”
Bello said Cruz used ammunition by four different manufacturers: Lake City, Eldorado, Federal Cartridge, and Remmington. Medical examiners have testified the high-velocity rounds often explode into smaller fragments once inside the victim’s bodies.
As of Tuesday afternoon, on the third week of the penalty phase, prosecutors had called 78 witnesses to testify at the 17th-floor Broward courtroom. The list includes the 17 victims who survived their injuries and 20 who read victim statements about 11 of the 17 killed.
It will be up to the jurors to decide Cruz’s fate. The jury has to vote unanimously on each of the victims for him to be executed for his crimes. Otherwise, Cruz will face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the court was in recess until 12:30 p.m., on Wednesday.
Seven witnesses read victim statements on Monday:
- Patricia Oliver: The mother of Joaquin Oliver, a victim of the MSD shooting
- Andrea Ghersi: The older sister of Joaquin Oliver, a victim of the MSD shooting
- Victoria Gonzalez: Joaquin Oliver’s girlfriend and an MSD student survivor
- Kelly Petty: The mother of Alaina Petty, a victim of the MSD shooting
- Meghan Petty: The older sister of Alaina Petty, a victim of the MSD shooting
- Linda Beigel: The mother of Scott Beigel, a victim of the MSD shooting
- Michael Schulman: Scott Beigel’s stepfather
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