‘What were you thinking?’ Parkland families react to jury’s life in prison recommendation

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Some families of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting expressed their anger, sadness and shock by the jury’s recommendation Thursday that confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of death.

Dr. Ilan Alhadeff and Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa Alhadeff was killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School spoke to reporters after the verdict was read, expressing their disgust with the jury and our legal system.

“I sent my daughter to school and she was shot eight times,” Lori Alhadeff said. “I’m so beyond disappointed and frustrated …I just don’t understand.”

Alyssa’s father said if given the chance he would ask the jury, “What were you thinking?”

“What do we have the death penalty for?” he asked. “You set a precedent today. You set a precedent for the next mass shooting … as a country, we need to stand up and say, ‘that is not OK.’”

Lori Alhadeff said she went to court Thursday morning without a doubt in her mind that the shooter would be sentenced to death.

“I pray that that animal suffers every day of his life in jail and that he should have a short life,” Dr. Ilan Alhadeff said.

Alyssa’s father said this decision wasn’t about the jury’s personal beliefs or their religious beliefs, but should have been based on the evidence.

He said every mitigating factor was disproved by the state, and life in prison is not an appropriate sentence for the gunman because “jail is about rehabbing” and there is no rehabbing him.

He also questioned why Cruz was not shackled when he was brought into court during the proceedings.

“He’s not a human being, he’s an animal,” he said.

Dr. Ilan Alhadeff expressed his gratitude toward the prosecution team, saying he believed they did everything they could.

Still, he said he and his wife were “tortured for 12 hours” while they waited to find out that their daughter had died, and now they had to wait in pain for another hour.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed the shooting, echoed Dr. Ilan Alhadeff’s statements about the mitigating factors in the case and said there is now someone out there planning a mass shooting who believes they will be able to escape the death penalty.

“I could not be more disappointed in what happened today,” Guttenberg said.

Guttenberg said he will now continue his fight for gun safety to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Watch Guttenberg’s full comments below:

Fred Guttenberg speaks following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina Montalto was also killed in the mass shooting, was seen shaking his head as the judge read the jury’s verdict for each of the 17 counts.

“Today’s ruling was yet another gut punch for so many of us who devastatingly lost our loved ones on that tragic Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Montalto, who is also the president of the Stand with Parkland organization said in a statement after the verdicts were read. “Seventeen beautiful lives were cut short, by murder, and the monster that killed them gets to live to see another day. While this sentence fails to punish the perpetrator to the fullest extent of the law — it will not stop our mission to effect positive change at a federal, state and local level to prevent school shooting tragedies from shattering other American families.”

Debbi Hixon, who lost her husband Chris Hixon in the shooting, reminded reporters after the verdict was read that her husband ran into the freshman building to try to save lives and Cruz shot him twice and then returned to shoot him yet again to make sure that Hixon died.

“I am completely devastated and shocked by this verdict,” she said.

Hixon said to her this verdict means that the jury feels the shooter’s life meant more than the lives of the victims.

Like other relatives of the victims, Hixon also expressed her shock that the jury would find that the mitigating factors, even if true, outweighed the aggravating factors in the case.

She said her own son who has special needs “checks off many of the same boxes” as Cruz, but he isn’t a murderer.

“My son is the sweetest person you could ever meet,” Hixon said.

Watch Hixon’s full comments below:

Debbi Hixon speaks following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

Linda Beigel Schulman, who lost her son Scott Beigal in the shooting, said this should have been the case that made anyone who is thinking about committing a mass shooting stop and think twice because they could receive the death penalty.

She acknowledged that the jurors did their job and had to view horrific autopsy photos and go into the crime spree, but “when push came to shove” they weren’t able to make the right decision.

“This animal deserves to die,” Michael Schulman said. “He planned this for months.”

“Justice was not served today,” he added.

Beigel Schulman said she is now looking forward to the day she gets a call to say that the gunman was murdered in prison.

“There is no closure when your son is murdered,” she said.

Watch Schulman and Beigel Schulman’s full comments below:

Linda Beigel Schulman and Michael Schulman speak following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

Chen Wang, whose cousin, Peter Wang, was killed in the massacre, said her cousin’s mother has never been the same after the shooting, suffering from PTSD and being unable to sleep.

She said the jury’s verdict has now only made things harder for them.

“We are shocked by this result and it is just so unjust,” Chen Wang said.

She said she thought their family could get a little comfort with Thursday’s verdict, but now that hope is lost.

“My aunt is dying,” she said.

Watch Wang’s full comments below:

Chen Wang speaks following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

Max Schachter, whose son Alex Schachter was among the victims killed, released a statement on Twitter:

“Prior to the shooting, the Parkland murderer said he wanted to kill 20 people,” he wrote. “He stopped after killing 17 including my sweet little boy Alex. Afterwards he didn’t want to die. He wanted to live. Today he got everything he wanted. While our loved ones are in the cemetery.”

Schachter also spoke to reporters at the courthouse after the verdict was read.

Watch Schachter’s full comments below:

Max Schachter speaks following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

Anne Ramsay, the mother of Helena Ramsay, expressed her gratitude for the prosecution, saying “they worked tirelessly for us.”

“Seventeen people died — 14 beautiful children, three adults who dedicated their lives to educating children. Today we find out there’s no justice for us,” she said.

Ramsay also questioned why if Cruz suffered from mental health problems, he was still able to purchase an AR-15.

“There is no excuse in the country to have weapons of war on the street,” she said. “Someone killed 17 people and attempted to kill 17 more and we let him get away with it.”

Watch Ramsay’s full comments below:

Family members of Helena Ramsay speak following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

The sister and mother of Joaquin Oliver also spoke to reporters, with Oliver’s sister saying she couldn’t believe the jurors “allowed this piece of garbage to live.”

“The defendant accomplished his goal,” Oliver’s mother said. “The defendant made us feel bad — he took our loved ones away.”

Watch the Oliver family’s full comments below:

Family of Joaquin Oliver speaks following jury’s decision not to execute Parkland shooter

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