A grieving father breaks down on the Parkland faculty shooter trial

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – A grieving father became angry Tuesday as he told jurors about the daughter of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz he was murdered along with 16 others four years ago, his voice rose as he told her “an infectious laugh that I can only see now on TikTok videos.”

Ilan Alhadeff’s emotional testimony about his 14-year-old daughter Alyssa marked the second day of tears and families, one after the other, took the witness stand to give heartfelt statements about their loved ones who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.

He and his wife, Lori, described Alyssa’s role as captain of her soccer team, the friend others always turn to for advice or a shoulder to cry on, and her plans to become a business lawyer. He cried as he told how he will not dance with his daughter at her wedding or see the children she would have.

“My first-born daughter, daddy’s girl, was taken from me!” yelled Alhadeff, a doctor of internal medicine. “I see my friends, my neighbors, my colleagues spending time enjoying their daughters, enjoying all the normal milestones, having the normal pleasures and I just have to watch videos or go to the cemetery to see my daughter.”

He said one of Alyssa’s two younger brothers was too young to understand her death when it happened, but now “he asks to go see his sister at the cemetery from time to time.”

“This is not normal!” he said angrily.

Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October; the trial is only to determine whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole. Over the two days of family statements, he showed little emotion, even as some of his attorneys broke down in tears and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s voice broke as she gave instructions. He mostly stares straight ahead or looks down at the table where he sits.

As one family points out, others linger in the gallery as they wait their turn. Once they are done, they wait to support. They exchange packets of tissues, shoulder rubs and, when there are breaks, hugs. Some jurors shed tears, but most sit stoically.

Some families had statements read to them. The mother of 14-year-old Martin Duque wrote that although he was born in Mexico, he wanted to be a US Navy Seal. The wife of assistant football coach Aaron Feis wrote that he was a doting father to their young daughter and a mentor to many young people.

The mother of 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup wrote that she was a straight-A student whose letter announcing she was a semifinalist for a National Merit Scholarship arrived the day after she died. She wanted to be a doctor who researched amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Shara Kaplan became emotional as she told jurors about her two sons’ grief that they were not there to protect her little sister, 18-year-old Meadow Pollack.

Luke Hoyer’s mom, Gina, said the 15-year-old was her “miracle child,” her “Lukey Bear.” She said he stopped by on Valentine’s morning to thank her for the card and the card she put in her bathroom. The gifts remained there for a year. His father, Tom, said he never saw his son that morning, but said “Have a good day” as he hurried off to work. “That’s the kind of trade-off you have when you think you’ll have tomorrow,” he said.

Fred Guttenberg, now a national advocate for stricter gun laws, said he regrets that the last words he said to his 14-year-old daughter Jaime were not “I love you” but instead, “You have to departure, you are. going to be late” as he pushed her and her older brother out the door that morning. He said his son is angry with him for telling him to run when he called out in panic to say there was a gunman at school instead of finding his sister, even though he wouldn’t have made a difference.

His wife, Jennifer Guttenberg, said that while her daughter was known for her competitive dancing, she volunteered with the Humane Society and with special needs children. She planned to become a pediatric physical therapist.

Annika Dworet, her husband Mitch sitting somberly by her side, the jurors were told of her son Nick, was 17 when he died. A star swimmer, he accepted a scholarship to the University of Indianapolis and was training in hopes of competing for his mother’s home country of Sweden in the 2020 Olympics. His younger brother, Alex, was injured in the shooting.

“He was always inclusive of everyone. On his last night with us, he spent time talking to the younger kids on the swim team, giving them some tips,” she said.

But now, she said, “our hearts will be broken forever.”

“We will always live with excruciating pain. We have an empty bedroom in our house. There is an empty chair at our dining table. Alex will never have a brother to talk to or hang out with. They will never again go driving, blasting loud music. We didn’t get to see Nick graduate from high school or college. We will never see him get married.

“We will always hesitate before answering the question, ‘How many children do you have?'”

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