Families of the victims of the Parkland mass shooting address the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial of well-known gunman Nikolas Cruz.
The sentencing phase of the trial is to determine whether Cruz will be sentenced to death for shooting 14 students and three staff members at his former South Florida school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on February 14, 2018.
Patricia Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin Oliver, was murdered, called her murdered son “the missing link of our family.”
“During the entire pregnancy, we loved every moment, including the doctor visits,” she said in court on Monday. “August 4th, the most beautiful day of our family life, our beautiful, sweet little boy, big eyes, has arrived. Joaquin.”
“We miss him more than words can say,” she said.
“I have to make the listeners feel how painful it is to live with this deep hole in my heart,” she continued.
Joaquin was a planner, his mother said, planning everything from his high school graduation outfit to his college plans. He should have graduated this year with a degree in business administration, said Patricia Oliver.
“I keep talking to him in my mind. I have to imagine the moments we should live and share with him,” she said.
“The whole future ahead of him was taken from us. Getting his first professional job. Moving on his own. Cooking, doing laundry, everything he had to learn from me,” she said.
Joaquin Oliver’s partner, Victoria Gonzalez, also released a statement, explaining: “I didn’t get the girlfriend label until the day he died… The label we gave each other was always soul mate – that was my partner.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, she said out loud, “I’m going to do it,” as she began to read her statement.
“Joaquin loved to make people laugh. He loved dancing through the halls at school… He loved sitting in my passenger seat and singing his heart out,” Gonzalez said.
“He worked so hard in class – all he wanted to do was graduate and make his family proud. He wanted to travel and run away to Paris with me,” she said.
On Valentine’s Day 2018 – the day Joaquin was murdered – they planned a movie date.
“I remember wondering if later that day, in the midst of the chaos, we would have another quiet night together in the theater. I lost myself that day,” she said, crying. “I lost my soul mate in the flesh.”
“I lost the friend who understood me the most. I lost the excitement of watching him grow up,” she said. “I lost my innocence, I lost the purity. I lost the love letters that he wrote for me in that creative writing class in the fourth term — I never really received them. They were pinned to his shirt. I miss my best friend and the way he made me feel at home.”
Patricia Oliver wept as Gonzalez spoke.
Kelly Petty, whose youngest child, Alaina Petty, was murdered at age 14, said Alaina was a “mother girl” who loved the church and the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“On February 14, 2018, my heart stopped beating,” said Kelly Petty.
“I’m devastated that I won’t be able to watch her become the amazing young woman she was becoming,” she said through tears.
Alaina’s sister, Meghan Petty, five years older, described Alaina as smart, confident and someone who “shredded with integrity.”
“I’m doing my best, but her loss makes me feel empty and like it’s impossible to ever truly love someone again,” Meghan Petty said.
“She never got a chance to really live. She never took off her braces. She never had her first kiss. It pains me to know she’s never been on a first date…never fell in love, never to experience heartbreak and come out stronger and wiser … She will never get her driver’s license she will never feel the satisfaction of getting her first paycheck She couldn’t choose which university to go to or feel the expectation of waiting for that letter of acceptance or rejection,” said Meghan Petty. “She will never be able to marry or have children of her own — and she probably hadn’t even started thinking about those things, because she was supposed to have a whole life to find that out.”
“No amount of strength can prepare you to wait for hours and worry about seeing your parents come home with one of your siblings, but not another,” she continued. “The initial pain of finding out she was dead was nothing compared to the pain of living without her. I keep waiting for her to walk through the door.”
Meghan Petty said Alaina’s death always “looms up” in the back of her mind.
“Her absence screams at me, even when I focus on other things,” she said.
“I’m just trying to shut it out,” she said, because she “emotionally can’t comprehend” that her sister is gone.
Stoneman Douglas geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel, who was killed in the shooting, spoke most days with his mother Linda Beigel Schulman, she said in court.
“Scott and I had an amazing mother-son bond that is hard to put into words,” she said. “We had an unspoken understanding that we could vent to each other, not be judgmental, give advice only when asked, and never get it back in our face.”
New York native Scott Beigel spent every Sunday with his grandmother, who lived nearby in Florida.
“The two had a very special bond,” said Schulman. “Scott was the safety net she always counted on.”
She described her son as humble, witty and great with children.
Scott Beigel spent his childhood in a sleepover camp and loved it so much that he ran the boys’ camp when he was in his thirties, she said.
As a cross-country coach, it didn’t matter if a student was the fastest or the slowest, he treated everyone equally, she said.
“Scott’s cross-country team loved him as he loved each of them. To this day I still hear from many of them,” said Schulman.
As for her grief, Schulman said, “I’m still trying to live with it every day, and it doesn’t get any easier.”
Scott Beigel’s father, Michael Schulman, said he adopted Scott and his sister when they were in their 20s, explaining, “I wanted to be their father and not their stepfather.”
Michael Schulman recalled helping his son set up his first apartment when he moved to Florida.
“We painted, hung paintings, installed ceiling and wall fixtures, and built furniture. It was one of the fondest memories I have of Scott and I working together, father and son, getting him ready for his new life in Florida,” he said.
“On February 14, 2018, my whole life was put in a blender. My life was turned upside down and inside out. Every day a thought or memory of Scott comes to my mind. I try desperately to hold onto those memories because it’s all I have left. have,” he said.
“I will never go to another ball game with Scott again, I will never help him set up another house,” he said. “I miss you, son. I will miss you forever.’
More victim statements are expected on Tuesday.
Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder in October 2021. Cruz said in court last year that he believes the victims’ families should decide whether he will receive the death penalty.
The jury’s decision must be unanimous for the death penalty.