The shooter who opened fire at a South Florida high school, killing 17 of his former classmates and school staff members and wounding more than a dozen others, pleaded guilty on Wednesday.
Next, a jury will determine his sentence. He faces a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole and a maximum sentence of the death penalty.
The guilty plea comes more than three years after the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Shortly after the shooting, Nikolas Cruz admitted to gunning down his classmates in a lengthy confession, but he maintained his not-guilty plea as his lawyers sought to avoid the death penalty, according to local news outlets.
During a court hearing in Broward County on Wednesday morning, he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in connection with the shooting.
Loved ones of Cruz's victims were in the courtroom during the hearing, some quietly crying and holding each other at times.
Following his plea, Cruz addressed victims' families through tears, apologizing for his actions and saying it was for them that he was pleading guilty.
"I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day... and I am doing this for you, and I do not care if you do not believe me," he said. "And I love you, and I know you don’t believe me, but I have to live with this every day, and it brings me nightmares, and I can’t live with myself sometimes."
Cruz's statement was also peppered with some bizarre asides. He noted without context that he "can’t even watch TV anymore," and at one point appeared to blame marijuana use for his rampage. (Cruz reportedly told detectives he had heard a voice in his head urging him to commit violence, and would occasionally use marijuana and Xanax to quiet the voice.)
In the days and weeks that followed the massacre, survivors launched a national youth-led movement against gun violence, called March for Our Lives, and inspired hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets to demand gun control. Florida lawmakers also passed new gun restrictions.
In a statement Wednesday, March for Our Lives said Cruz's plea would not bring closure — only meaningful legislation to prevent gun violence could do that.
"A single guilty plea does not bring closure as long as it is still possible for another person anywhere in this country to be murdered by a gun at school, in a place of worship, or in their very own home," the group said. "A guilty plea will not erase the past, and it will not bring us peace. It has been nearly four years since the shooting. We are appalled and disgusted that policymakers continue to waffle and play games, rather than do what needs to be done to prevent any more gun deaths. We are not at peace, we are as angry and determined as ever."
Cruz was 19 at the time of the shooting and had withdrawn from the high school about a year before due to his failing grades and conflicts with other students. There had been repeated warnings about him, and the Broward County Sheriff's Office drew widespread criticism for failing to act before the shooting as well as for how it responded to the gunfire. Several deputies never entered the school during the attack but remained posted outside with their guns drawn. A school resource officer who failed to confront the shooter was later arrested on child neglect charges.
The American Public Health Association describes gun violence in the US as a public health crisis. It is the leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths annually. As of Oct. 20, 35,900 people have died from gun violence this year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.