The Parkland trial reveals the depth of the households’ grief

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Peter Wang’s mother has four tattoos honoring her 15-year-old son. One tattoo is done every year on February 14. from killing him. Carmen Schentrup’s parents have trouble sleeping. Nicholas Dworet’s mother hesitates every time someone asks her, “How many children do you have?”

Joaquin Oliver’s mother can’t bear to visit relatives at family celebrations because her son is gone. Jaime Guttenberg’s mother can’t watch her beloved Florida Gators play football because they were also her daughter’s favorite team. Gina Montalto’s father struggles with his marriage, strained by the grief of losing his daughter.

One by one, relatives and friends of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., appeared in court this week and revealed to jurors the depth of their despair after four years of the shooting. before Valentine’s Day. During four days of deeply emotional testimony, they shared painful and intimate details that revealed how their inner lives remain torn apart and how massacres like Parkland leave families with years of unresolved grief.

“I have a box over my heart with a tight lid and I’m trying to contain all my emotions,” said Linda Beigel Schulman, who lost her son, geography teacher Scott J. Beigel. “But today I’m taking the lid off that box.”

The heart-wrenching testimony ended Thursday after the jury deciding the attacker’s fate, Nikolas Cruz, toured the school building where the mass shooting took place. Prosecutors left the last day of nearly three weeks of presentation from examining the crime scene, an extremely rare and visceral event in a criminal trial.

What the 12 jurors and 10 alternates saw inside Building 12 of Stoneman Douglas High, which has been cordoned off and unused since the day of the shooting, was a moment frozen in time, a joyous holiday interrupted by a deadly rampage. Bullet holes pierced doors and walls. Shards of broken glass crunched under their feet. Laptops remained open, classwork unfinished. Dried rose petals were scattered on the blood-stained floor.

In one unfinished English class assignment, one student wrote, “We go to school every day of the week and take it all for granted. We cry and complain, not knowing how lucky we are to be able to learn. On the second floor hallway was a James Dean quote: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

The visit to the crime scene lasted 12 days often gruesome videos and autopsy evidence in a harrowing trial in which a jury will decide whether Mr. Cruz, 23, who pleaded guilty, should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The defense is scheduled to begin its trial on August 22. The judge will first hold a hearing without a jury to decide whether the defense can use a brain map of Mr. Cruz as evidence of the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Before hearing from the victims’ families and relatives, the jury heard from 17 survivors who were wounded in the shooting about how they sustained their injuries and the lingering effects of being hit by high-velocity gunfire. Some still have pieces of shrapnel in their bodies.

Benjamin Wikander’s radial nerve was so badly damaged that he still has to wear an arm brace. Maddy Wilford he has difficulty breathing through his right lung. Sam Fuentes suffers from chronic pain and spasms in his legs and doesn’t have the same range of motion he used to.

But it was perhaps the most somber in the courtroom, as parents, siblings, grandparents and friends struggled to remain calm as they remembered their loved ones and described life without them. They often reached for tissues. The bailiff offered them water.

“I can do this,” Tori Gonzalez, Joaquin Oliver’s girlfriend said, taking a deep breath on the witness stand. One juror cried as she called Joaquin her soul mate.

“I lost my virginity,” she said of the shooting. “I lost my purity. I lost the love letters he wrote me in that fourth period creative writing class.

Many relatives talked about not being able to celebrate birthdays and holidays after the shooting. Peter Wang’s family no longer celebrates Chinese New Year. Mother of Luke Hoyer Christmas was called almost unbearable. Helena Ramsay was murdered on her father’s birthday.

Families lamented that they would never see their children graduate from high school or college. Never let them walk down the hall. Never be happy about having children.

“She never took her braces off,” Alaina Petty’s sister Meghan Petty said. “She never got her first kiss.”

Parents and spouses described their homes as unbearably quiet. “There’s no more intimacy and comfort at night,” said Debra Hixon, wife of the school’s athletic director, Chris Hixon, “just the volume of silence.”

Her son Corey Hixon, who has Kabuki syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, said of his father simply: “I miss him!

Some people were angry. Alyssa Alhadeff’s father, Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, cried repeatedly through tears, “This is not normal!” He said his wife “sometimes sprays Alyssa with perfume just to try to smell her.”

“Four years later, she even sleeps with Alice’s blanket,” he added.

Some parents worked hard. Fred Guttenberg, Jaime Guttenberg’s father, who became a gun control activist, said he couldn’t hold a regular job and that his public crusade “has made life difficult for my wife and my son, so I’m sorry.”

“It broke me,” he said.

The shooting changed his relationship with his son, who had to wait for Jaime that day and drive her home after school. Instead, when Mr. Guttenberg learned of the shots, he told his son to run.

“He’s struggling with the reality that he couldn’t save his sister and he wants it to be him,” he said. “He was mad at me, I convinced him to run.”

Many people in the courtroom gallery wept as victim after victim spoke. Several defenders did.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.

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