The families of the victims of the Parkland mass shooting address the jury during the penalty phase of the trial of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz.
The penalty phase of the trial involves determining whether Cruz will be sentenced to death for shooting dead 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 killed, called her slain son “the missing link in our family”.
“Throughout the whole pregnancy, we enjoyed every moment, including the visits to the doctor,” she said in court Monday. “On August 4, the happiest day in the life of our family, our beautiful and dear little boy with the big eyes arrived. Joaquin.”
“We miss him more than words can say,” she said.
“I have to let 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 projects. He should have graduated from college this year with a business degree, said Patricia Oliver.
“I keep talking to him in my head. I have to imagine the times we were meant to have and share with him,” she said.
“All the future that awaited him was taken away from us. Getting his first professional job. Moving around on his own. Cooking, doing laundry, everything he was supposed to learn from me,” she said.
Joaquin Oliver’s partner, Victoria Gonzalez, also released a statement, explaining: “I wasn’t labeled a girlfriend until the day he died… The label we gave each other was always soul mate – c was my partner.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, she said aloud, “I will,” as she began to read her statement.
“Joaquin loved making people smile. He loved dancing in the halls of school…He loved sitting in my passenger seat and singing along,” Gonzalez said.
“He worked so hard in class — all he wanted was to graduate and make his family proud. He wanted to travel and run away with me to Paris,” she said.
On Valentine’s Day 2018 – the day Joaquin was killed – they had planned a movie date.
“I remember wondering if, among the chaos later in the day, we would still have a quiet night together at the theater. I got lost 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,” she said. “I lost the innocence, I lost the purity. I lost the love letters he wrote me in that fourth period creative writing class – I never received them. They were pinned to his shirt. I miss my best friend and the way he made me feel at home.”
Patricia Oliver cried as Gonzalez spoke.
Kelly Petty, whose youngest child, Alaina Petty, was killed at 14, said Alaina was a “mommy’s girl” who loved church and the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“On February 14, 2018, my heart stopped beating,” Kelly Petty said.
“I’m heartbroken that I couldn’t see her grow into the amazing young woman she was becoming,” she said in tears.
Alaina’s older sister of five years, Meghan Petty, described Alaina as smart, confident and someone who “shone with integrity”.
“I’m doing my best, but losing her makes me feel empty and truly loving someone again is impossible,” Meghan Petty said.
“She never even had a chance to really live. She never took her braces off. She never had her first kiss. It hurts me to know that she never went to a first date…never got to fall in love, never got to be heartbroken and come out stronger and wiser…she’ll never go get her driver’s license, she will never experience the satisfaction of having received her first paycheck. She will never feel the anticipation of waiting for that letter of acceptance or rejection,” Meghan Petty said. “She’ll never be able to get married or have kids herself – and she probably hadn’t even begun to think about those things because she was supposed to have her whole life to figure that out.”
“No strength can prepare you for hours of waiting and worrying only to see 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 continue to wait for her to walk through the door.”
Meghan Petty said Alaina’s death was “leading” on her mind at all times.
“His absence screams at me, even when I’m focused on other things,” she said.
“I’m trying to shut up,” she said, because she “can’t emotionally understand” that her sister is gone.
Scott Beigel, a geography teacher and Stoneman Douglas cross-country coach who was killed in the shooting, spoke with his mother Linda Beigel Schulman almost every day, she told the court.
“Scott and I had an incredible mother-son bond that can’t really be put into words,” she said. “We had an unspoken understanding that we could vent, not be judgmental, give advice only if asked, and never throw it back in our faces.”
Scott Beigel, a New York native, spent every Sunday with his grandmother, who lived nearby in Florida.
“They both had a very special bond,” Schulman said. “Scott was the safety net she always relied on.”
She described her son as humble, witty and great with kids.
Scott Beigel spent his childhood at summer camp and loved it so much he ended up running the boys’ camp when he was in his 30s, she said.
As a cross-country coach, it didn’t matter if a student was the fastest or slowest runner, he treated everyone the same, she said.
“Scott’s cross country team loved him like he loved all of them. To this day I still hear from many of them,” Schulman said.
As for her grief, Schulman said, “I’m still trying to learn to live with it every day, and it’s not getting any easier.”
Scott Beigel’s father, Michael Schulman, said he adopted Scott and his sister when they were in their twenties, explaining, “I wanted to be their father and not their stepfather.”
Michael Schulman remembers helping his son furnish his first apartment when he moved to Florida.
“We painted, hung pictures, installed ceiling and wall lights and built furniture. It was one of the fondest memories I have of Scott and I working together, father and son, preparing him 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 upside down. Every day a thought or memory of Scott comes to mind. I try desperately to keep those memories because that’s all I have left,” he said.
“I will never go to another football game with Scott, I will never help him move into another house,” he said. “I miss you, son. I will miss you forever.”
More victim statements are expected on Tuesday.
Cruz pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of first degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first degree murder. Cruz said in court last year that he believes the victims’ families should be the ones to decide whether he faces the death penalty.
The jury’s decision must be unanimous for the death penalty.