Nikolas Cruz trial: Parents of Parkland school shooting victims distraught over verdict: "He's an animal"

In 2018, Nikolas Cruz walked into Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, shooting and killing 17 people. Four years later, a jury decided that Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

On Thursday, parents and relatives of the shooting victims expressed their extreme disappointment moments after the jury decided to give Cruz life in prison rather than the death penalty. 

Cruz avoided the death penalty after an 11-1 vote from the jury. 

Victims of the Parkland school shooting

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14

"We have a jury system for a reason, and they let us down," said the father of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the victims of the Parkland school shooting. "They gave their personal beliefs, but they didn't go by the evidence."

"Law enforcement needs to do their job, they cannot stand there and just watch as 17 people get shot and killed. Your job as a police officer is to go in engage and take down the threat. And if you can't do that, don't do the job," Alyssa's mother shouted.  

"He's not a human being, he's an animal."

Gina Montalto, 14

"It's pretty unreal that nobody paid attention to the facts of this case," said the father of Gina Montalto. "That nobody can remember who the victim is and what they look like."

Gina's father described Cruz' pressing the barrel of his weapon against his daughter's chest, referencing Cruz' tough upbringing as no excuse to the modest verdict delivered by the jury.

"Society has to really look and really reexamine who and what is a victim. Not everyone is a victim. My beautiful Gina, the other sons, daughters, spouses and fathers — they were the victims here. Our justice system should've been used to punish this shooter to the fullest extent to the law, not as an act of revenge."

Jaime Guttenberg, 14

"There are 17 victims that did not receive justice today," father of Jaime Guttenberg said. 

"My daughter — she was shot running down a hallway. "Now what mitigating factor was it that they used on her, were they going to suggest that he didn't have the fine motor skill to shoot that gun as she was running down the hallway."

"He is going to go to prison, and he will die in prison." And I will be waiting to read the news on that."

Chris Hixon, 49

The wife of Chris Hixon tearfully said the verdict says to families of the victims that Cruz' life meant more than the 17 victims that were murdered.

"I have a son with special needs, I have a son that checked all of those boxes that the shooter did as well, but you know what — my son is not a murderer."

Scott Beigel, 35

"It's been 1,703 days since the murderer committed the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said the mother of teacher Scott Beigel. "If this was not the perfect death penalty case than why do we have the death penalty at all."

At one point during the press conference, Scott's parents held up a laptop showing video footage of gunman Nicholas Cruz in the school's hallway holding up a gun.

"The last thing that my son saw was the gunmen aiming at him."

Peter Wang, 15

"My aunt has changed forever, she suffers from PTSD — she cannot function normally," said the cousin of Peter Wang. "All the moms that I saw in the (expletive) courtroom, they are suffering, and this result made them suffer even more."

Helena Ramsay, 17

"The wrong verdict was given out today," said the mother of Helena Ramsay. "If this murderer had mental problems, he still managed to get a gun, he still managed to get an AR-15 to mow down our kids."

"He took 17 lives and attempted to take 17 more."

Joaquin Oliver, 17

"The defendant fired 139 times, and he didn't do more because he didn't find anybody else," said the mother of Joaquin Oliver. 

"We are not going to let the defendant take more away from us."

Alaina Petty, 14

"I saw him [Nikolas Cruz] walk up to Coach Hixon, and shoot him in cold blood as Chris Hixon was laying there on the ground. I will never forget that video. I will never forget what I saw that day," said the father of Alaina Petty.

"It’s clear that mistakes were made and that there were warning signs prior to him acquiring a fire arm and putting his plan into place. We heard testimony in the trial here. He’s been a problem since kindergarten. He attacked other students in kindergarten." 

Alex Schachter, 14

"He was violent from age 3-years-old. The teachers were scared of him. He was a menace in all the classes he was in, said the father of Alex Schacter. 

"He said his intentions were to kill 20 people, the only reason he stopped is he because he couldn't find anyone else to kill."

Why Nikolas Cruz didn't get the death penalty

Under Florida law, a death sentence requires a unanimous vote on at least one count. Since one juror decided against it, a circuit judge will formally issue Cruz' life sentences on November 1. 

The jury’s recommendation came after seven hours of deliberations over two days, ending a three-month trial that included graphic videos, photos and testimony from the massacre and its aftermath, heart-wrenching testimony from victims’ family members and a tour of the still blood-spattered building.

Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty a year ago to murdering 14 students and three staff members and wounding 17 others on Feb. 14, 2018. Cruz said he chose Valentine’s Day to make it impossible for Stoneman Douglas students to celebrate the holiday ever again.