Alyssa Alhadeff would be in her second year of college if she hadn’t been murdered in a 2018 mass shooting at her high school in Parkland, Florida, and her father would be eager to see her achieve her dreams.
“Soon she would become a professional footballer. She would graduate from law school and possibly become one of the most successful business negotiation lawyers in the world,” Ilan Alhadeff said in a Broward County court on Tuesday, testifying in the death penalty trial of her daughter’s killer.
“She was supposed to get married, and I was going to make my dad and my daughter dance,” he said, his voice cracking. “She would have had a beautiful family, four children, living in a wonderful house – a beach house on the side.
“All of those plans ended with Alyssa’s murder,” he said.
The families of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting continued to take a stand on Tuesday, offering victim impact statements to illustrate the toll of the killings as a jury decides whether to sentence the shooter to death.
Nikolas 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 ask the jury for a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
To recommend a death sentence, jurors must be unanimous. If they do, 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 why Cruz should or should not be executed. The victim impact statements add another layer, giving families and friends of the victims their own day in court, although the judge told the jury that the statements should not be considered aggravating factors.
“We were a family unit of five always trying to fit into a world organized for even numbers,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke – the youngest of three – was killed. “Tables with two, four or six places in a restaurant. Packages of two, four or six tickets for events. Things like that.”
But the Hoyers are no longer a family of five, and “the world will never feel right again, now that we’re a family of four,” Hoyer said.
“When Luke died, something disappeared inside me,” he said. “And I will never get over this feeling.”
The testimony of the parents of the 14 slain students focused not just on who their children were, but on who they will never become – an endless catalog of things undone and unsaid.
Nicholas Dworet, captain of the high school swim team, had just received a scholarship from Indianapolis University when he was killed, his mother, Annika Dworet, testified on 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,” she said. Beside his bed, he had taped a note that read, “I want to become a Swedish Olympian and go to Tokyo 2020 to compete for my country. I will give everything in my body and mind to achieve the goals I have set for myself.
“Now,” Annika Dworet said, “we will never know if he would have achieved his goal of going to the Olympics.”
Jennifer Guttenberg, mother of 14-year-old Jaime, told the court that watching her daughter’s friends and classmates grow up and achieve things that Jaime will never do is “extremely difficult”.
Family reunions and holidays are also tough, with one less seat at the table and no Jaime to keep “everyone upbeat and laughing”.
“There is unity, but there is no celebration,” Guttenberg said. “There is a deafening silence among everyone, as they don’t want to bring up Jaime’s name to cause pain, but they don’t want to forget it either.”
The past four years have been no less painful for Linda Beigel Schulman, who told court on Monday it had been 1,630 days since she had spoken to her son Scott Beigel, a geography teacher killed while he kept the students safe in his classroom.
“I’ll never get over it. I’ll never be without it,” she said Monday. “My life will never be the same again.”
Cruz had no visible reaction Monday to any of the victim impact statements, although 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 we love him very much,” she said, adding, “Our lives have been shattered and changed forever.”
Joaquin’s sister, Andrea Ghersi, said her 6ft 1in little brother was “energetic, dynamic, loud, confident, strong, empathetic, understanding, intelligent, passionate, outgoing, playful, loving, competitive, rebellious, funny , loyal and consistently spoke up when he felt something was not right.
Victoria Gonzalez also spoke on Tuesday. On the day of filming, she became Joaquin’s girlfriend, Gonzalez told the court, but they already referred to each other as “always soul mates” and she described it as “magic personified, love personified.” Her name, she says, is “carved deep into my soul”.
Kelly Petty, mother of victim Alaina Petty, described the deceased 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’m heartbroken that I couldn’t see her grow into the amazing young woman she was becoming.”
Alain’s sister, Meghan, echoed that sentiment, telling the court: ‘I would have loved to see her grow up. She would have been a blessing to the world.