WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT Day five of the trial focused on the accounts of some of the first law enforcement officers who arrived on the scene of the massacre as well as the graphic autopsy findings of some of the victims
Harrowing testimony was heard in court on Friday as police officers described finding the bodies of innocent students and staff who had been slaughtered moments earlier in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The sentencing trial for mass killer Nikolas Cruz began on Monday with prosecutors calling survivors and witnesses to the stand throughout the week as the jury weighs whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison.
Day five of the trial focused on the first-hand accounts of some of the first law enforcement officers who arrived on the scene of the massacre in Parkland, Florida, back on 14 February 2018 as well as the graphic autopsy findings of some of the victims.
Detective David Alfin from Coral Springs Police Department recounted the moments when he found the bodies of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg and 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver inside the school building.
The officer, who testified that he believes he was the first officer to reach the third floor hallway, spoke of the sobering moment that he then had to move the boy’s lifeless body.
Detective Alfin said that he arrived at the campus at around 2.42pm that day – around 20 minutes after the shooting began.
After entering the freshman building where the shooting took place, he headed up to the third floor with some fellow officers.
When they entered the hallway from the west side, he testified that he saw the gunman’s tactical vest and AR-15 rifle placed on top of it.
Cruz had abandoned his weapon at the scene and then fled the school – hiding in plain sight among terrified students evacuating the campus.
Detective Alfin testified that he then saw the body of freshman student Jaime Guttenberg to his left.
The officer described how he checked Jaime’s pulse and vital signs but discovered she was already dead.
Jaime’s father Fred Guttenberg was seen wiping tears from his eyes and bowing his head as he sat in the public gallery listening to the officer’s testimony about his daughter.
The grieving father, who is now a prominent gun control advocate, was comforted by other victims’ family members.
The officer went on to testify about finding the body of Joaquin Oliver in the alcove to the men’s restroom, where the teenager had tried to take cover from the gunfire.
The officer told the court how he had to move the boy’s lifeless body out of the doorway so that he could check to see if anyone was inside the restrooms.
“I had to remove him from the door so that it could be checked to ensure that nobody was inside of it,” he said.
During the officer’s testimony, Cruz sat with his head in his hands.
Another law enforcement officer testified about how he found a surviving victim amid the chaos, with the gravely injured student desperately trying to get the attention of rescuers.
Broward Sheriff’s Sgt Richard Van Der Eems told the court that he entered the building through the east side and saw “a child dead on the ground and smoke and dust in the air” on the first floor.
Sgt Van Der Eems and other law enforcement officers cleared survivors out of one of the rooms and he then went up the stairs to the third floor.
“We looked down the halfway and there was a child all the way at the other end,” he said.
“He was trying to raise his hand up and he was trying to say something.
“But he kept trying to raise his hand up so that we could see he was alive.”
He said that he and his fellow officers grabbed the boy – identified as Anthony Borges – and took him to a medic.
When he went back, he found the bodies of two more victims – 14-year-old Cara Loughran and 18-year-old Meadow Pollack – inside the alcove of the bathroom doorway.
The two girls had huddled together in the alcove of some classroom doors to try to escape the gunfire.
Coral Springs Police Department Captain Nicholas Mazzei, the first witness to take the stand on Friday, testified how he came across the body of 37-year-old assistant football coach Aaron Feis on the ground as he approached the west side of the freshman building.
Captain Mazzei said that he checked Feis, a married father, for vital signs but that he was already dead.
The officer then – believing that the gunman was still inside – entered the school building, he said.
There, he came across a second victim – 49-year-old athletic director and married father-of-two Chris Hixon.
As the officers delivered their testimony about what they saw, jurors were shown images from their body cameras.
The jury was also shown graphic photos from some of the victims’ autopsies as a pathologist testified about the extent of their injuries.
Dr Iouri Boiko testified that he performed the autopsy on the body of 14-year-old victims Martin Duque and Alaina Petty, 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup and 18-year-old Meadow Pollack. The three younger students were all shot dead on the first floor of the school building while Meadow was killed in the third floor hallway.
The pathologist told the court that Martin had suffered eight gunshot wounds with bullets striking him throughout his body including in the head, chest, cheek, liver and lung.
He explained in harrowing detail how the exit wounds on the boy’s body were larger than the bullet entrance wounds because of the high velocity firearm used in the attack.
Dr Boiko testified that Alaina suffered four gunshot wounds, describing one that went through her left lung and heart as the “deadly” bullet wound.
Alaina was in her classroom on the first floor when Cruz opened fire and was struck by bullets as he shot through the door.
Carmen was also killed by bullets fired into her classroom. The pathologist described in graphic detail how one of the bullets struck her in the head, going through her skull and her brain.
“The brain was coming out from the skull because of the high velocity of the projectile,” he said.
Dr Boiko then detailed the horrific wounds suffered by Meadow, as she was shot seven times by Cruz as she tried to hide in the alcove of a classroom on the third floor with Cara Loughran.
The pathologist told the court that two of the gunshot wounds were fatal – one to the head and one to the torso.
Several family members of victims became emotional – and some got up and left the courtroom – as Dr Boiko described the injuries suffered by the murdered students.
The grieving families were then faced with sitting through the court being shown graphic photos of their children’s bodies in the aftermath of the massacre.
Broward County Crime Scene Detective Danny Krystyan testified that he responded to the school on the afternoon of 14 February 2018 to capture photos of the crime scene.
Jurors were shown aerial photos of the crime scene, showing some of the victims in the hallways and the classrooms of the building.
The images also showed a black ski mask, multiple bullet casings, three gun magazines and a backpack containing a knife located at the scene.
Max Schachter, the father of victim Alex Schachter, became emotional and closed his eyes as photos of his son’s body were shown to court.
The 14-year-old was one of the first to be killed in the massacre when the gunman shot through the window of his first-floor classroom, striking him with bullets as he sat at his desk.
Amid the harrowing accounts and graphic images shown in court on Friday, the fifth day of the trial was disrupted by lengthy delays in proceedings and the defence and prosecution wrestling over legal issues.
Before the jury was brought in for the day, Cruz’s legal team raised an objection to witnesses identifying the mass killer in the courtroom.
His attorney claimed that – because he has pleaded guilty – it is not relevant for witnesses to identify him as the murderer.
The defence also took issue with a local news outlet which had posted information – such as employment details – about each juror in the case.
Then, there was a major delay in proceedings resuming after the 15-minute morning break.
When it resumed, the judge told the courtroom that it was in recess until after lunch as she dealt with some legal matters.
Last October, Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of first-degree murder.
Now, 12 jurors will decide whether to sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole or to give him the death penalty.
The trial will resume at 9am on Monday morning.