Politicians, victims’ families react after jury recommends life for Parkland shooter

family courtroom parkland trial ap
The condemnation of the verdict was nearly unanimous.

Confusion gave way to disbelief Thursday as it became apparent that a jury found mitigating factors were enough to spare the life of Nikolas Cruz, the person responsible for the worst school shooting in Florida history.

Some on Twitter were confused — and the New York Post and several other outlets tweeted the wrong outcome — during the hourlong verdict reading.

But slowly, condemnation of the verdict grew as it became clear that although the jury found that although aggravating factors were present in this case, one or more of the jurors found that mitigating factors kept them from recommending the death penalty.

“It’s a stain,” said Ilan Alhadeff, father of Alyssa, who died along with 16 others in the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He gave remarks to the media immediately following the verdict. “He’s not a human being, he’s an animal.”

Families praised the state’s case, but faulted the jury.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was killed in the massacre, addressed the cameras outside the courthouse holding back the tears. “There are 17 victims who did not receive justice this day,” he said. “This jury failed our families today.”

Max Schachter, who lost his son, Alex, vented on Twitter immediately after the verdict.

“Prior to the shooting the Parkland murderer said he wanted to kill 20 people,” tweeted Schachter, who founded the nonprofit, Safe Schools for Alex, in the aftermath of the shooting. “He stopped after killing 17 including my sweet little boy Alex. Afterwards he didn’t want to die. He wanted to live. Today he got everything he wanted. While our loved ones are in the cemetery.

One of the survivors of attending school that day, Feb. 14, 2018, said it turned out how he wanted it, however.

“The Parkland shooter doesn’t deserve the gift of life, if a random individual happened to kill him, I would not mourn,” said Matt Deitsch, a prominent member of March for Our Lives, the pro-gun control movement that grew out of the incident. “But, I don’t believe our government has the authority, jury or not, to condemn him or anyone to death. I am staunchly against the death penalty in principle.

Politicians, however, weighed in on the opposite side.

“He should die 17 times!” tweeted Jared Moskowitz, the Democratic nominee to represent Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. He is also an alum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who served in the Legislature in the immediate aftermath of the killings.

Moskowitz also called the verdict a travesty of justice and that death was not enough, using an expletive to convey his outrage.

“Mass shooters get to live but there victims don’t, f***ing unacceptable,” Moskowitz tweeted, unedited. “He should be removed from ever existing. The 17 can never return and neither should he. I always stand with the parkland families.”

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis opened his 12:30 p.m. news conference by condemning the verdict.

“I don’t think anything else is appropriate except the capital sentence in this case,” DeSantis said, and then noted it had been four and a half years since so many lives were upended and 17 lives were lost. “You know, they used to do this and he would have been executed in six months. He’s guilty. … This legal system is not serving the interests of the victims.”

He revealed the jury split at Thursday’s event. There was only one holdout against the death penalty, he said.

Charlie Crist, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee to challenge DeSantis, agreed the jury’s verdict doesn’t make sense.

“There are crimes for which the only just penalty is death,” Crist tweeted. “The Parkland families and community deserved that degree of justice. I will continue to pray for healing for the families and every person impacted by this tragedy.

The case, which birthed the “March for Our Lives” movement demanding gun control, has already had a huge effect on the laws of the state of Florida. The state is one of only a few that has so-called “red flag” laws that allow a judge to remove guns from a person who might be a danger to themselves or others. It also increased the minimum age that a person can buy a weapon like the one Cruz used from 18 to 21.

Tony Montalto, outside the courthouse in front of the media, repeatedly recalled that Cruz had killed his daughter, Gina, with a direct shot to the chest, shot her three more times and pulled the trigger 139 individual times during the shooting.

“Today’s ruling was yet again another gut punch for so many of us who devastatingly lost our loved ones on that tragic Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school,” he said.

Sometimes his voice rose to a shout.

“Pressing the barrel of his weapon to my daughter’s chest?” he said, rhetorically, his face contorting with emotion. “That doesn’t outweigh that poor, little, what’s-his-name having a tough upbringing?”

Democratic Rep. Dan Daley, who represented Parkland before the decennial redistricting shifted boundaries, noted in his tweet that the community’s pain goes on. He’s filed Jaime’s Law, in honor of Jaime Guttenberg, that would require a background check for the purchase of ammunition. It has not been passed into law.

“The MSD trial has been a crushingly traumatic process for our community, especially the families of those who were violently murdered at their school, something no parent should ever experience,” he wrote. “The decision reached by the jury today was not an easy one to reach, but I hope that it brings some semblance of closure to a community that is still in so much pain.”

Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones said the verdict makes his job — and other leaders — all the more urgent.

“Now more than ever, we owe it to them to DO SOMETHING about the epidemic of gun violence and ensure no other families have to endure the same pain,” Jones tweeted.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • It's Complicated

    October 13, 2022 at 1:54 pm

    Put him in the general population of the prison, and they will take care of him, just like they did with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Comments are closed.


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