Two weeks after the Parkland school shooter was sentenced to life in prison, loved ones of his victims confronted him Tuesday in court.
"I will never get to say goodbye to her," Meghan Petty, sister of 14-year-old Alaina Petty, said through tears. "The last time I saw her sweet face was when she was lifeless and cold, laying in a coffin."
More than a dozen people — mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents — have addressed Nikolas Cruz, who pleaded guilty to opening fire in his Florida high school in 2018, killing 17 students and faculty members and injuring 17 more.
Those killed in the attack were: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alexander Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.
Cruz could have received the death sentence for his crimes, but on Oct. 13, a jury instead sentenced him to life imprisonment. The jury would have had to be unanimous to sentence him to death, and three jurors voted against doing so.
Victims' families have overwhelmingly decried the jury's decision, with many expressing anger in their statements Tuesday that Cruz would be allowed to live after cutting so many lives short.
"If killing 17 innocent people and wounding 17 more does not warrant the death penalty, then what possibly does?" said Theresa Robinovitz, grandmother of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. "I’m too old to see you live out your life sentence, but I hope your every breathing moment here on Earth is miserable, and you repent for your sins, Nikolas, in burning hell."
Thomas Hixon, the son of Chris Hixon, the school's athletic director, said Cruz was "living proof that evil does exist in our world." His widowed mother, Debra Hixon, vowed that going forward she would "only remember Chris for the hero he was to us every day."
"You stole him from us, and you did not receive the justice you deserved," Debra Hixon said. "You were given a gift, a gift of grace and mercy, something you did not show to any of your victims."
Meghan Petty said she felt "betrayed by our justice system" that Cruz would get to live out his life in prison after her little sister "died scared" and "alone on a dirty classroom floor."
"He gets daily meals, a roof over his head, and a bed to sleep in now," Petty said. "My sister’s body is food for carrion, her roof is 6 feet of dirt, and her bed is a coffin."
"Alaina will never grow up — he stopped her at 14," Petty continued. "She’s never going to go to college, get a job, get married, meet any of her nieces or nephews, have kids, or even breathe again. But he’ll be able to draw breath, and he has for the past four and half years that she has not, and he will get to continue to do so into old age."
Many gave their statements through tears, with some sharing their final memories of their slain loved one. Anne Ramsay, mother of 17-year-old Helena Ramsay, recalled having dinner with the daughter the night before the shooting, the last meal she'd ever eat with her.
"You know what she said to me? She said, ‘Thank you, Mommy. Delicious, Mommy. Thank you, thank you,’" Ramsay said. "Her praise was superfluous. It was as though it was a lifetime of 'thank yous' she was saying to me that evening."
The next morning, Ramsay packed a cookie with her daughter's lunch as a Valentine's Day treat. When Helena found it, she texted her mother an emoji of a smiley face surrounded by hearts. "That was the last text that I received from my daughter," Ramsay said.
People who were wounded in the shooting, as well as parents of wounded students, also addressed Cruz. Stacey Lippel, a teacher who was shot but survived, said the experience left her "broken and altered" and that she "will never look at the world the same way again."
"You don’t know me, but you tried to kill me," Lippel said. "I will have a scar on my arm and the memory of you pointing your gun at me ingrained in my brain forever."
The parents of Ben Wikander, a student who Cruz shot three times, said he's undergone seven surgeries and still has not fully recovered from his injuries. "Whatever pain you experience in prison unfortunately will be a fraction of what Ben endured,” said his father, Eric Wikander.
Ellen Mayor, the mother of Samantha Mayor, who survived being shot in the knee, read her daughter's statement in court about the “most fearful day of my life."
"I remember accepting my death at that moment, and reminding myself that my friends and family know that I love them," she wrote in her statement.
During the trial, defense attorneys who represented Cruz described him as a "damaged human being” who was "poisoned in the womb" by a birth mother who drank and did drugs while pregnant. Cruz was adopted at birth into a stable home, but suffered severe mental health problems that began in childhood, which his lawyer said were the result of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
But in his statement Tuesday, Max Schachter — whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed in the shooting — hit back against the defense's claim that Cruz "slipped through the cracks," arguing that he had actually been given "more [mental health services] than most kids in America will ever receive," including psychiatric medication and “hundreds of hours of therapy."
"He is a sociopath that does not deserve to live amongst us," Schachter said.