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Parkland teachers emotionally recall students and colleague killed in massacre at Nikolas Cruz trial


In an emotional day of testimony at the penalty phase of the trial of Nikolas Cruz, students and teachers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School described in court the events of Valentine’s Day 2018, when 14 teenagers and three staff were murdered by the gunman.

Former students at the school, the oldest still only in their early twenties, were composed in describing the horrors of that day when Cruz, who pleaded guilty last year, rampaged through the freshman building at the school in Parkland, Florida.

As with Tuesday’s testimony, most of those who spoke were among the 17 injured in the hail of gunfire that ripped through classrooms and hallways on the afternoon of 14 February 2018.

Some of the most heart-wrenching testimony came from teachers, who at times struggled, fighting back tears, as they recounted telling students to shelter, helping them escape, tending to the wounded, and the realisation that some had been killed.

Ivy Schamis was teaching a history of the Holocaust class and leading students through a discussion about the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. She recalled star athlete Nick Dworet correctly knowing that Adolf Dassler founded the Adidas shoe company and that his brother had founded the rival Puma brand.

This moment of pride was ended when the first gunfire echoed through the hallway outside the classroom and shots pierced the glass of the windowed door.

“It was really seconds later that the barrel of that AR-15 just ambushed our classroom,” Ms Schamis testified, wiping her eyes. “It came right through that glass panel and was just shooting everywhere. It was very loud. Very frightening. I kept thinking about these kids who should not be experiencing this at all.”

Teacher recalls telling students to get down while assuming Parkland shooting was a drill

After students scrambled to take shelter behind furniture and the killer moved on through the building, Ms Schamis remember the bravery and maturity of her class as they waited for the police to reach them.

Of those in the room that day, three were wounded and two killed. Ms Schamis was shown their portraits and began to cry.

“That’s my girl, Helena Ramsay,” she said, adding: “Nicholas Dworet, handsome boy.”

Nick’s brother Alex, who testified on Tuesday was injured when a bullet grazed his head in a classroom across the hall. Three students were killed in that room and several others were wounded.

Teacher Juletta Matlock echoed Ms Schamis in her description of the attack on her classroom where she was running a study hall session. Three students were out of the room on hall passes when Cruz struck and they were killed in the hallway.

Parkland teacher tells court of moment students took cover in 2018 shooting

Ms Matlock fought back tears when shown pictures of Luke Hoyer, Martin Duque, and Gina Montalto, all 14 years old.

In another classroom, Ronit Reoven was lecturing her advanced psychology class when she first heard gunfire.

“There were multiple gunshots,” she said. “They were incredibly loud. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! I froze for a moment and the students jumped out of their seats. Of course, they were startled and scared.”

When the shooting stopped, Ms Reoven remembered the wounded students moaning and crying. She made a tourniquet out of a blanket to stop a boy’s arm from bleeding out.

His classmate used a denim jacket to stem the flow of blood from a girl’s chest and arm wounds. While another girl who had been shot in the knee appeared to be stable, her classmate Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, was lying facedown in a pool of blood.

“I knew that she was probably gone,” Ms Reoven said.

As Cruz moved up the building to the third floor, Stacey Lippel was teaching creative writing and Ernest Rospierski was supervising another study hall when smoke and debris from the earlier shooting triggered the fire alarm.

Unaware of the horror unfolding downstairs classes began to evacuate into the suddenly crowded hallway. The first students encountered Cruz in the stairway and charged back onto the floor screaming seconds before the gunfire began.

When Cruz opened fire on the third floor, Mr Rospierski shielded a dozen students in an alcove as he tried in vain to open locked classroom doors. After Cruz passed, he managed to help them escape down a stairwell sustaining bullet grazes to his head and hip.

As the shots came down the hall, Ms Lippel and Scott Beigel, who taught geography in the neighbouring room, quickly unlocked their doors and started getting students back inside. She described Cruz emerging from the stairwell, “splaying the rifle back and forth, shot after shot after shot,” she said. “It never stopped.”

Along with 38 students, Ms Lippel got inside her room and closed the door, sustaining an injury to her arm. Mr Beigel, whose door opened the other way, was fatally shot.

Parkland teacher Rospierski explains how he pushed about a dozen students to safety

His student, Veronica Steel, one of many to give testimony on Wednesday, told the court that his body fell in the doorway preventing it from closing, leaving the students in the room terrified that the shooter would come inside.

She caught the moment on video with her cellphone, which was played to the court. The screaming, commotion, whispering, crying, and panicked breathing were audible to all.

Cruz buried his face in his hands and pushed his thumbs into his ears, blocking out the sounds from that day four years ago.

The testimony came a day after jurors saw surveillance video showing victims being gunned down at point-blank range. Cruz also killed some of the wounded by firing on them a second time as they lay on the floor.

When jurors eventually get the case, they will vote 17 times, once for each of the victims, on whether to recommend capital punishment.

For each death sentence, the jury must be unanimous or the sentence for that victim is life. The jurors are told that to vote for death, the prosecution’s aggravating circumstances for that victim must, in their judgment, “outweigh” the defense’s mitigators

A juror can also vote for life out of mercy for Cruz. During jury selection, the panelists said under oath that they are capable of voting for either sentence.

With reporting from the Associated Press


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