FORT LAUDERDALE — A grieving father erupted in anger Tuesday as he told jurors about the daughter Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz murdered along with 16 others four years ago, his voice rising as he recounted her “infectious laugh that I can only get to watch now on TikTok videos.”
Dr. Ilan Alhadeff’s emotional testimony about his 14-year-old daughter Alyssa marked a second day of tears as families, one after another, took the witness stand to give heartrending statements about their loved ones who died at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
He and his wife, Lori, described Alyssa’s role as captain of her soccer team, the friend others always turned to for advice or a shoulder to cry on, and her plans to become a business lawyer. He cried as he recounted how he will not dance with his daughter at her wedding or see the children she would have had.
“My first-born daughter, daddy’s girl was taken from me!” yelled Alhadeff, an internal medicine physician. “I get to watch my friends, my neighbors, colleagues spend time enjoying their daughters, enjoying all the normal milestones, taking in the normal joys and I only get to watch videos or go to the cemetery to see my daughter.”
He said one of Alyssa’s two younger brothers was too young to comprehend her death when it happened, but now “asks to go see his sister at the cemetery from time to time.”
“This is not normal!” he said angrily.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October; the trial is only to determine whether he is sentenced to death or life without parole. Over the two days of family statements, he has shown little emotion, even as several of his attorneys wiped away tears and Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s voice broke when she gave directions. He mostly stares straight ahead, occasionally looking down at the table where he sits.
As one family testifies, others sob in the gallery while awaiting their turn. They exchange packets of tissues, shoulder rubs and, when breaks come, hugs. Some jurors wipe away tears, but most sit stoically.
Annika Dworet, her husband Mitch sitting somberly at her side, told the jurors about their son Nick, who was 17 when he died. A star swimmer, he had accepted a scholarship to the University of Indianapolis and was training in hopes of competing for his mother’s native Sweden in the 2020 Olympics. His younger brother, Alex, was wounded in the shooting.
“He was always inclusive of everyone. On his last evening with us, he spent time speaking to the younger kids on the swim team, giving them some pointers,” she said.
But now, she said, “our hearts will forever be broken.”
“We will always live with excruciating pain. We have an empty bedroom in our house. There is an empty chair at our dining table. Alex will never have a brother to talk or hang out with. They will never again go for a drive, blasting very loud music. We did not get to see Nick graduate from high school or college. We will never see him getting married.
“We will always hesitate before answering the question, ‘How many kids do you have?’”
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By TERRY SPENCER, Associated Press