FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Some parents and family members of the Parkland school shooting victims said Wednesday they were unmoved by Nikolas Cruz's apology in court and remain in favor of him being sentenced to death.
Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for the Valentine's Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
By pleading guilty, Cruz now must wait for a jury to decide whether he will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Relatives of the victims who sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom broke down in tears and held hands across families.
As Cruz apologized to the families of his victims, several parents shook their heads in disgust.
Cruz explained that he thought it should be up to the families to determine whether he lives or dies.
But it seems several have already made up their minds, and his statement did little, if nothing, to change their positions.
"Today we saw a cold and calculating killer confess to the murder of my daughter, Gina, and 16 other innocent victims at their school," Tony Montalto said.
His daughter was 14 and sitting outside her classroom when Cruz shot her at close range numerous times.
"His guilty pleas are the first step in the judicial process, but there is no change for my family," Montalto said. "Our bright, beautiful and beloved daughter Gina is gone, while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison."
Parents scoffed at Cruz's statement as they left the courtroom, saying it seemed self-serving and aimed at eliciting unearned sympathy.
Gena Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son, Luke, died in the shooting, saw it as part of a defense strategy "to keep a violent, evil person off death row."
She said her son was "a sweet young man who had a life ahead of him and the person you saw in there today chose to take his life. He does not deserve life in prison."
Debbi Hixon, whose husband, Christopher Hixon, was among the 14 students and three faculty members killed in the massacre said the families weren't expecting to hear "part of what was said today, and I think it reiterates the fact of why we need to seek the death penalty."
Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, was killed in the shooting, spoke to reporters via Zoom after the hearing.
"At the end of the day, someone declared himself guilty for something that I always knew -- we all know -- that he was already guilty," Oliver said.
Oliver said his pain and anger are "bigger" than ever after hearing Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz recount in court how each of the victims died, including learning that Cruz shot his son, reloaded and then shot him again.
"It tells me that he was not dead," Oliver said. "So there's a lot of suffering. There's a lot of pain, I guess, and I've always wondered if Joaquin was thinking about us, his family."
Despite Cruz's apology, Montalto, who wore a picture of his daughter close to his heart, felt no sympathy for her murderer.
"There's no moving on," he said. "There's moving around the pain that we feel every day. The loss of my daughter affects my wife, myself, and our son and our entire family."
Lori Alhadeff wears her daughter's name on her wrist and her arm, in the form of a wristband and tattoo.
"So I think about Alyssa every day," she said.
Alhadeff, who watched the hearing from home, said she imagines that her daughter would be playing soccer -- the sport that she loved -- in college right now.
"She was a beautiful, vivacious, amazing girl," Alhadeff said.
Instead, the 14-year-old was killed by Cruz. So Alhadeff turned her grief into action, running for and winning election to the Broward County School Board.
"Seventeen people died," Alhadeff said. "Seventeen people were shot, and so it's ultimately that his life needs to be taken."
Anthony Borges, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who was shot five times and severely wounded, told reporters after the hearing that he accepted Cruz's apology, but noted that it was not up to him to decide the confessed murderer's fate.
"He (made) a decision to shoot the school," Borges said. "That's for everybody. He (made) his decision to do it. Now he's facing it. That's not my right. Like, I'm not God to (make) the decision to kill him or not. That's not my decision. My decision is to be a better person and to change the world (for) every kid. Like, I don't want (this) to happen to (anybody) again. Like, it hurts. It hurts. It really hurts."
But Hoyer was more decisive, saying her son's killer doesn't deserve life in prison.
"Life in prison is a life, and he deserves nothing more than the death penalty," she said.