The visit, Judge Elizabeth Scherer told jurors on Wednesday, was to help them analyze the evidence presented so far in the trial of Nikolas Cruz, who faces the death penalty or life in prison after pleading guilty at 17. counts of murder and 17 counts. of attempted murder.
Footage of the pool taken outside the building on Thursday showed it remained fenced, partly hidden behind banners bearing the high school’s name and the emblem of its eagle mascot. The judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys were also seen entering the building.
The jury’s view on Thursday was followed by several more impact statements from the victim in the afternoon – before the state ended its case.
Patricia Oliver, mother of victim Joaquin Oliver, told CNN she hoped “emotions” would be the main takeaways from jurors after touring the building on Thursday, which would have been her son’s 22nd birthday. The building was closed to preserve it for the trial. Officials announced that it would be demolished.
Jurors were instructed on Wednesday “to avoid touching, handling or moving anything.” The judge also told them to explore the stage on their own and at their own pace, moving as a group from floor to floor. Cruz did not attend the visitation, telling the judge Thursday morning in response to his questioning that it was his decision not to go.
“Nothing will be explained or reported to you,” the judge’s instructions state. The jurors were also told to avoid speaking to anyone until the viewing was over.
Jurors were not allowed to have a smartphone, smartwatch or any type of camera during the viewing. In court, lawyers encouraged the judge to ask jurors to wear closed-toe shoes as they could encounter glass on the floor.
The current phase of the trial is to determine Cruz’s sentence: prosecutors are asking for the death penalty, while Cruz’s defense attorneys are asking the jury for life in prison without the possibility of parole. To recommend a death sentence, jurors must be unanimous. If they do, the judge could choose to follow the recommendation or sentence Cruz to life instead.
“I can’t really be happy if I smile”, testifies the father of the victim
Following the visit, more victim impact statements were presented in court, with more families of victims speaking out to testify to the toll of the massacre and what the death of their loved ones meant to them.
Anne Ramsay, mother of 17-year-old victim Helena Ramsay, remembered her daughter as a beautiful and graceful young woman – someone who was naturally athletic but preferred to exercise her mind in competitive sport. She loved watching “Jeopardy!”
Helena was killed on her father’s birthday, Anne Ramsay said. “This day will never be a celebration and can never be the same for him,” she said, “and is now filled with pain, like every day.”
“We no longer decorate our house or throw parties on our family’s most important holiday. It is now the anniversary of Peter’s death,” she said. “This day of unity has become a day that hurts the most.”
Much of the testimony in Broward County Court this week — particularly from the parents of the 14 slain students — focused on all the things the victims and their families will never be able to do and the irreparable damage to their daily lives.
“Our family is broken. There’s this constant emptiness,” said Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old Alex, who loved chocolate chip cookies, playing the trombone and playing video games.
“I feel like I can’t really be happy if I smile,” Schachter said Wednesday. “I know that behind that smile is the clear realization that a part of me will always be sad and miserable because Alex isn’t here.”
The loss of her daughter Meadow Pollack, 18, “destroyed” Shara Kaplan’s life, she told the jury on Tuesday, “and my ability to live a productive existence.” To express the impact of her daughter’s death on her, she says, she would have to rip out her heart and show them how it had shattered into a million pieces.
And the Hoyer family will never be the same again. “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.”
To make their sentencing 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.
CNN’s Sara Weisfeldt and Leyla Santiago contributed to this report.