“Soon she would be a professional football player. She would get her law degree and perhaps become one of the most successful commercial negotiation lawyers in the world,” Ilan Alhadeff said in County Court on Tuesday. Broward, testifying in the death penalty trial of his daughter’s killer.
“She was supposed to get married, and I was going to make my dad and my daughter dance,” he said, his voice cracking. “She would have had a beautiful family, four children, living in a wonderful house, a house on the beach next door.
“All of those plans ended with Alyssa’s murder,” he said.
The families of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting continued to speak out on Tuesday, offering victim impact statements to illustrate the toll of the killings as a jury decides to sentence the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, to death.
The hearing was moving as the parents of some of the 14 students killed described not only who their children were, but also who they will never become – a catalog of things undone and unsaid.
Cruz had no visible reaction to the victim impact statements on Tuesday, although one of the defense attorneys seated next to him was seen wiping away tears.
To recommend a death sentence, the jurors must be unanimous. If they do, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life instead.
To make their decision, jurors will hear prosecutors and defense attorneys argue aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances — the reasons why Cruz should or should not be executed. The victim impact statements add another layer, giving families and friends of the victims their own day in court, although the judge told the jury that the statements should not be considered aggravating factors.
“We were a family unit of five always trying to fit into a world of even numbers,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke – the youngest of the three – was killed. “Two, four, or six-seat tables in a restaurant. Two-, four-, or six-ticket packages for events. Things like that.”
But the Hoyers are no longer a family of five, and “the world will never feel right again, now that we’re a family of four,” Hoyer said.
“When Luke died, something disappeared inside me,” he said. “And I will never get over this feeling.”
“I’ll never get over it”
Nicholas Dworet, captain of the high school swim team, had just received a scholarship from Indianapolis University when he was killed, his mother, Annika Dworet, testified on Tuesday. He wanted to study finance and move to Boston with his girlfriend.
“Nick had big goals – bigger than most of us dare to dream,” she said. Next to his bed, he had taped a note that read, “I want to become a Swedish Olympian and go to Tokyo 2020 to represent my country. I will give everything I have in my body and my mind to achieve the goals I have set.”
“Now,” said Annika Dworet, “we will never know if he would have achieved his goal of going to the Olympics.”
Jennifer Guttenberg, mother of 14-year-old Jaime, told the court that watching her daughter’s friends and classmates grow up and achieve things Jaime will never do is “excruciatingly difficult”.
Family reunions and holidays are also tough, with one less seat at the table and no Jaime to keep “everyone upbeat and laughing”.
“There is unity, but there is no celebration,” Guttenberg said. “There is a deafening silence among everyone, as they don’t want to mention Jaime’s name to cause pain, but they don’t want to forget it either.”
“I’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over it,” she said Monday. “My life will never be the same again.”
“Our lives have been shattered”
Cruz had no visible reaction Monday to any of the victim impact statements, although one of his defense attorneys was seen wiping away a tear, as were at least two members of the jury.
“It’s been four years and four months since he was taken from us, his friends and his family,” Patricia Oliver said of her son, who was 17 when he was killed. “We miss him more than words can say and we love him very much,” she said, adding, “Our lives have been shattered and changed forever.”
Joaquin’s sister, Andrea Ghersi, said her 6ft 1in little brother was “energetic, dynamic, loud, confident, strong, empathetic, understanding, intelligent, passionate, outgoing, playful, loving, competitive, rebellious, funny , loyal and consistently spoke up when he felt something was not right.”
Victoria Gonzalez also spoke on Tuesday. On the day of filming, she became Joaquin’s girlfriend, Gonzalez told the court, but they were already referring to “always kindred spirits” and she described it as “magic personified, love personified.” Her name, she says, is “carved deep into my soul”.
Gena Hoyer, mother of Luke Hoyer, said her 15-year-old son’s bedroom remained the same. Her glasses and charger are still on the bedside table and her clothes are intact, she testified. She becomes physically ill when she moves anything in the room, she said.
Meadow Pollack’s mother, Shara Kaplan, told jurors to explain how her daughter’s death affected her, she would have to rip out her heart and show them it had been shattered into a million pieces.
“(Meadow’s death) destroyed my life and my ability to live a productive existence,” she said.
Kelly Petty, mother of victim Alaina Petty, described the deceased 14-year-old as a “very loving person”.
“She loved her friends, she loved her family, and most importantly, she loved God,” Kelly Petty said of her daughter. “I’m heartbroken that I couldn’t see her grow into the amazing young woman she was becoming.”
Alaina’s sister Meghan echoed that sentiment, telling the court: “I would have loved to see her grow up. She would have been a blessing to the world.”
CNN’s Carlos Suarez, Kevin Conlon and Denise Royal contributed to this report.