Nearly four and a half years after the tragic events that brought them together took place, the families of those killed in the Parkland school shooting are ready for the conclusion to the long process.
Opening statements are set to begin Monday in the sentencing trial for Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people and wounded 17 others inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.
"It’s been four and a half years of waiting. It’s time to move this to a conclusion, whatever that may be,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke was among the 14 students killed in the shooting.
Those who lost a loved one in the shooting admit that some days are more difficult than others — and the start of the penalty phase begins the end they need.
"Today for me is a very difficult day. I think the anticipation of the trial starting is gut-wrenching at this point,” said Linda Beigel, whose son Scott was a geography teacher who was killed while attempting to save the lives of his students. “I’m glad the trial is starting. I need closure.”
Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October, so the jurors will only decide his punishment. They must be unanimous for Cruz to get the death penalty — if at least one votes for life, that will be Cruz's sentence.
The sentencing is expected to last around four months. It took nearly three months to select the seven men and five women plus 10 alternates who will decide Cruz's fate. The process began with some 1,800 candidates.
Parkland Shooter's Death Penalty Trial
The wait has been painful for the families along with the fact Cruz's name and face will be on display - all while their loved ones are lost forever.
"We have to focus more on the victims here, the 17 that were killed and the 17 that were injured and an entire community that was affected by what he stole from us,” said Debbi Hixon, the wife of MSD athletic director and victim Chris Hixon.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in the shooting, posted the trial was the "reality" of gun violence.
The jurors will be exposed to graphic evidence, including crime scene and autopsy photos, and tour the three-story classroom building where Cruz methodically stalked the halls, shooting at anyone in front of him and into classrooms. It has not been cleaned since the shooting and remains bloodstained and bullet-pocked, with Valentine's Day gifts strewn about.
“We’ll be spending a lot of time talking about the actions of this convicted murderer, however, we ask that everyone remember the 14 students, three teachers that were murdered and the 17 additional individuals who were wounded and our entire community which is shaken to its core,” said Tony Montalto, the father of 14-year-old victim Gina and the president of Stand With Parkland.
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