By Kevin Deutsch
Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who fatally shot 17 people and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018, pleaded guilty to all counts Wednesday.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer accepted the pleas from Cruz, who admitted one by one to 17 counts of murder and guilty of 17 counts of attempted murder.
Scherer read each victim’s name as parents in the court gallery broke down and comforted one another.
The victims killed in the attack were Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Chris Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alex Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.
“Guilty,” Cruz said in response to each count.
“I accept your plea,” Scherer said.
Cruz entered the pleas after Scherer reminded him that “the maximum penalty is death.”
“You will not come out until you are no longer alive…you are facing a minimum best case scenario of life in prison. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Cruz said.
A jury will decide whether Cruz is sentenced to death or receives a life sentence. Under Florida law, a death sentence must be rendered unanimously by all 12 jurors.
During Wednesday’s plea hearing, Cruz told Scherer he felt the victims’ families should decide whether he lives or dies, but his lawyers told the judge Cruz understood that is not the way the law is applied.
Without turning to face the families of his victims, Cruz told them he was sorry for his crimes.
“I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day,” the killer said. “If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others. I have to live with this every day, and it brings me nightmares, and I can’t live with myself sometimes.”
“I just want you to know I’m real sorry, and I hope you give me a chance to try to help others.”
Cruz was also sentenced in a separate case Wednesday: the Nov. 13 beating of a Broward Sheriff’s Office jail guard.
Scherer gave Cruz 25 years in prison for multiple crimes stemming from his battery of the law enforcement officer.
Cruz’s guilt was never in question in the mass shooting case, given his confession to the crimes early in the investigation.
The killer, who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, took an Uber to the high school on Feb. 14, 2018, carrying an AR-15 assault rifle and 11 bullet cartridges in his bags, along with a bulletproof vest.
Once inside, he opened fire in a busy school building, targeting students and staff members.
The murders devastated Parkland and left the United States in mourning.
They also led the Florida Legislature to pass limited gun reform, inspired vocal student activism across the nation, and raised questions about school security in Broward County.
Tony Montalto, father of Gina, told reporters, “We’re feeling very disturbed. It was a difficult day to have to relive the day of the shooting and having to listen to details about our daughter at the hands of this cold, calculating murderer….he’s a violent young man. If he wanted to do something for our families, he shouldn’t have killed our loved ones.”
Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting, said on Twitter: “I find no peace in today guilty plea. Alex’s murderer is a sadistic killer that deserves to die. He should be afforded the same mercy he gave the MSD17. Justice will NOT be served until he no longer breathes the air on this earth.”
Cruz is due back in court on Oct. 26 as the judge and lawyers hash out details of the penalty phase of his trial.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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