Alyssa Alhadeff would be in her second year of college if she hadn’t been murdered in a 2018 mass shooting at her Parkland, Florida, high school – and her father would be looking forward to watching her achieve her dreams.
“Soon she’d go on to be a professional soccer player. She’d get her law degree, and maybe become one of the most successful business negotiation lawyers the world would see,” Ilan Alhadeff told a Broward County courtroom Tuesday, testifying in the death penalty trial of his daughter’s killer.
“She was supposed to get married, and I was going to have my father-daughter dance,” he said, his voice breaking. “She would have had a beautiful family, four kids, live in a gorgeous house – a beach house on the side.
“All those plans came to an end with Alyssa’s murder,” he said.
Families of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting continued taking the stand Tuesday, offering victim impact statements to illustrate the toll the murders have taken as a jury decides whether to sentence the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, to death.
The hearing was emotional, as parents of some of the 14 students killed described not only who their children were, but who they will never get to become – a catalog of things left undone and unsaid.
Cruz had no visible reaction to the victim impact statements Tuesday, though one of the defense attorneys sitting next to him was seen wiping away tears.
Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder, and this phase of his criminal trial aims to determine his sentence: Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while Cruz’s defense attorneys are asking the jury for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
To recommend a death sentence, jurors must be unanimous. If they do so, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life instead.
To make their decision, jurors will hear prosecutors and defense attorneys argue aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances – reasons Cruz should or should not be executed. Victim impact statements add another layer, giving the families and friends of the victims their own day in court, though the judge told the jury the statements are not meant to be weighed as aggravating factors.
“We were a family unit of five always trying to fit into a world set up for even numbers,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke – the youngest of three – was killed. “Two-, four-, six-seat tables in a restaurant. Two-, four-, six-ticket packages to events. Things like that.”
But the Hoyers are no longer a family of five, and “never again will the world feel right, now that we’re a family of four,” Hoyer said.
“When Luke died something went missing in me,” he said. “And I’ll never, never get over that feeling.”
‘I will never get over it’
Nicholas Dworet, captain of the high school’s swim team, had just received a scholarship to the University of Indianapolis at the time he was killed, his mother, Annika Dworet, testified Tuesday. He wanted to study finance and move to Boston with his girlfriend.
“Nick had big goals – bigger than most of us dare to dream of,” she said. Next to his bed, he’d taped a note which read, “I want to become a Swedish Olympian and go to Tokyo 2020 to compete for my country. I will give all I have in my body and my mind to achieve the goals I have set.”
“Now,” Annika Dworet said, “we will never know if he would have reached his goal to go to the Olympics.”
Jennifer Guttenberg, mother of 14-year-old Jaime, told the court watching her daughter’s friends and classmates grow up and achieve things Jaime never will is “excruciatingly difficult.”
Family get-togethers and holidays are hard, too, with one less seat at the table and no Jaime to keep “everyone upbeat and laughing.”
“There is togetherness, but there is no celebrating,” Guttenberg said. “There is a deafening silence amongst everyone, as they don’t want to bring up Jaime’s name to cause pain, but don’t want to forget her, either.”
The last four years have been no less painful for Linda Beigel Schulman, who told the court Monday it had been 1,630 days since she spoke to her son Scott Beigel, a geography teacher killed as he ushered students to safety in his classroom.
“I will never get over it. I will never get past it,” she said Monday. “My life will never, ever be the same.”
‘Our lives have been shattered’
Cruz had no visible reaction Monday to any of the victim impact statements, though one of his defense attorneys was seen wiping away a tear, as were at least two members of the jury.
“It’s been four years and four months since he was taken from us, his friends and his family,” Patricia Oliver said of her son, who was 17 when he was killed. “We miss him more than words can say and love him dearly,” she said, adding, “Our lives have been shattered and changed forever.”
Joaquin’s sister, Andrea Ghersi, said her 6-foot-1 baby brother was “energetic, vibrant, loud, confident, strong, empathetic, understanding, smart, passionate, outgoing, playful, loving, competitive, rebellious, funny, loyal and constantly spoke up when he felt something was not just.”
Victoria Gonzalez also took the stand Tuesday. The day of the shooting, she became Joaquin’s girlfriend, Gonzalez told the court, but they already referred to each other as “always soul mates,” and she described him as “magic personified, love personified.” His name, she said, is “etched into the depth of my soul.”
Gena Hoyer, mother of Luke Hoyer, said her 15-year-old son’s room remains the same. His glasses and charger are still on the nightstand and his clothes go untouched, she testified. She becomes physically ill when she moves anything in the room, she said.
Meadow Pollack’s mother, Shara Kaplan, told the jurors to articulate how her daughter’s death affected her she would have to rip out her heart and show them it’s been shattered in a million pieces.
“(Meadow’s death) has destroyed my life and my capability of ever living a productive existence,” she said.
Kelly Petty, mother of victim Alaina Petty, described the late 14-year-old as a “very loving person.”
“She loved her friends, she loved her family and, most importantly, she loved God,” Kelly Petty said of her daughter. “I am heartbroken that I won’t be able to watch her become the amazing young woman she was turning into.”
Alaina’s sister Meghan echoed the sentiment, telling the court, “I would have loved to see her grow up. She would have been a blessing to the world.”
CNN’s Carlos Suarez, Kevin Conlon and Denise Royal contributed to this report.