Parkland trial reveals depth of families’ grief

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Peter Wang’s mother has four tattoos in memory of her 15-year-old son, one on Feb. 14 of every year since he was killed. Carmen Schentrup’s parents have trouble sleeping. Nicholas Dworet’s mother hesitates every time someone asks her, “How many children do you have?”

Joaquín Oliver’s mother can’t bear to meet relatives for family celebrations because her son is gone. Jaime Guttenberg’s mother finds it impossible to watch her beloved Florida Gators play football, because they were also her daughter’s favorite team. Gina Montalto’s father struggles with her marriage, strained by grieving the loss of his daughter.

One by one, the families and friends of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, appeared in court this week, telling the jury the depth of their despair since losing loved ones to gunshots during four years. makes Valentine’s Day. During four days of deeply emotional testimony, they shared intimate and painful details that exposed how their inner lives remain shattered and how massacres like the one in Parkland leave families with years of unresolved grief.

“I have a box over my heart with a lid so tight, trying to keep all my emotions in check,” said Linda Beigel Schulman, who lost her son, Scott J. Beigel, a geography teacher. “But today, I will take the lid off that box.”

The harrowing testimony concluded Thursday after the jury decide the fate of the gunslingerNikolas Cruz toured the school building where the mass shooting occurred. Prosecutors postponed the crime scene hearing, an extremely rare and visceral occurrence in a criminal trial, to the last day of their nearly three-week filing and rested their case.

What the 12 jurors and 10 alternates saw inside Stoneman Douglas High Building 12, which has been fenced off and unused since the day of the shooting, was a moment frozen in time, a joyous vacation interrupted by a deadly rampage. . Bullet holes pierced doors and walls. Shards of broken glass crunched underfoot. Laptops remained open, classwork incomplete. Dried rose petals were strewn across the blood-covered floors.

In an unfinished English class assignment, a student had written: “We go to school every day of the week and take everything for granted. We cry and complain without knowing how lucky we are to be able to learn”. A second-floor hallway featured a quote from James Dean: “Dream as if you would live forever, live as if you would die today.”

The visit to the crime scene culminated 12 days of often gruesome video and autopsy evidence in a harrowing trial in which the jury will decide whether Mr. Cruz, 23, who has pleaded guilty, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The defense is scheduled to begin its case on August 22. The judge will first hold a bench hearing to decide whether defense attorneys can use a map of Cruz’s brain as evidence of the effects of FAS.

Before hearing from the families and relatives of the victims, the jury heard from 17 survivors who were injured in the shooting recount how their injuries were sustained and what lingering effects were left by being shot at with high velocity. Several still have shrapnel fragments in their bodies.

Benjamin Wikander’s radial nerve was damaged so badly that he still has to wear an arm brace. maddy wilford He has trouble breathing with his right lung. Sam Fuentes suffers from chronic pain and spasms in his legs and no longer has the same range of motion as before.

But the courtroom felt perhaps more somber as parents, siblings, grandparents and friends found it difficult to maintain their composure as they reminisced about their loved ones and described life without them. They frequently searched for handkerchiefs. A bailiff offered them water.

“I can do this,” Tori Gonzalez, Joaquín Oliver’s girlfriend, said as she took a deep breath on the witness stand. One juror wept when she called Joaquin his soulmate.

“I lost my innocence,” he said of the shooting. “I lost purity. I lost the love letters he was writing me in that fourth period creative writing class.”

Many family members spoke about not being able to celebrate birthdays and holidays since the shooting. Peter Wang’s family no longer gathers for Chinese New Year. mother of lucas hoyer called Christmas almost unbearable. Helena Ramsay was murdered on her father’s birthday.

Families lamented that they would never see their children graduate from high school or college. Never get to carry them down the aisle. Never rejoice that you have children of your own.

“She never had her braces off,” said Meghan Petty, Alaina Petty’s sister. “She never got her first kiss.”

Parents and spouses described their homes as intolerably quiet. “The night no longer provides privacy or comfort,” said Debra Hixon, wife of Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director, “just the rumble of silence.”

His son Corey Hixon, who has Kabuki syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, simply said of his father: “I miss him!”

Some people were angry. Alyssa Alhadeff’s father, Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, repeatedly yelled through tears, “This is not normal!” He said her wife “occasionally sprays Alyssa’s perfume just to try and smell her.”

“He even sleeps with Alyssa’s blanket, four years later,” he added.

Some parents have had trouble working. Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, who has become a gun control activist, said he has been unable to hold a regular job and that his public crusade “has made life harder for my wife and harder for me.” son, and for that I’m sorry.”

“This broke me,” he said.

The shooting changed her relationship with her son, who was supposed to wait for Jaime and drive her home after school that day. Instead, once Mr. Guttenberg learned of the shooting, he told his son to run away.

“He struggles with the reality that he couldn’t save his sister, and he wishes it was him,” he said. “He’s mad because I convinced him to come forward.”

As victim after victim spoke, many people in the courtroom gallery wept. So did several defense attorneys.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed to this report.

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