“Soon she’d go on to be a professional soccer player. She’d get her law degree, and maybe become one of the most successful business negotiation lawyers the world would see,” Ilan Alhadeff told a Broward County courtroom Tuesday, testifying in the death penalty trial of his daughter’s killer.
“She was supposed to get married, and I was going to have my father-daughter dance,” he said, his voice breaking. “She would have had a beautiful family, four kids, live in a gorgeous house — a beach house on the side.
“All those plans came to an end with Alyssa’s murder,” he said.
Families of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting continue to take the stand Tuesday, offering victim impact statements to illustrate the toll the murders have taken as a jury decides whether to sentence the shooter to death.
To recommend a death sentence, jurors must be unanimous. If they do so, 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 — reasons Cruz should or should not be executed. Victim impact statements add another layer, giving the families and friends of the victims their own day in court, though the judge told the jury the statements are not meant to be weighed as aggravating factors.
“We were a family unit of five always trying to fit into a world set up for even numbers,” said Tom Hoyer, whose 15-year-old son Luke — the youngest of three — was killed. “Two-, four-, six-seat tables in a restaurant. Two-, four-, six-ticket packages to events. Things like that.”
But the Hoyers are no longer a family of five, and “never again will the world feel right, now that we’re a family of four,” Hoyer said.
“When Luke died something went missing in me,” he said. “And I’ll never, never get over that feeling.”
‘I will never get over it’
Testimony by the parents of the 14 students killed has focused not only on who their children were, but on who they will never get to become — a never-ending catalog of things left undone and unsaid.
Nicholas Dworet, captain of the high school’s swim team, had just received a scholarship to the University of Indianapolis at the time he was killed, his mother, Annika Dworet, testified 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 of,” she said. Next to his bed, he’d taped a note that read, “I want to become a Swedish Olympian and go to Tokyo 2020 to compete for my country. I will give all I have in my body and my mind to achieve the goals I have set.”
“Now,” Annika Dworet said, “we will never know if he would have reached his goal to go 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 that Jaime never will is “excruciatingly difficult.”
Family get-togethers and holidays are hard, too, with one less seat at the table and no Jaime to keep “everyone upbeat and laughing.”
“There is togetherness, but there is no celebrating,” Guttenberg said. “There is a deafening silence amongst everyone, as they don’t want to bring up Jaime’s name to cause pain, but don’t want to forget her, either.”
“I will never get over it. I will never get past it,” she said Monday. “My life will never, ever be the same.”
‘Our lives have been shattered’
Cruz had no visible reaction Monday to any of the victim impact statements, though 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 love him dearly,” she said, adding, “Our lives have been shattered and changed forever.”
Joaquin’s sister, Andrea Ghersi, said her 6-foot-1 baby brother was “energetic, vibrant, loud, confident, strong, empathetic, understanding, smart, passionate, outgoing, playful, loving, competitive, rebellious, funny, loyal and constantly spoke up when he felt something was not just.”
Victoria Gonzalez also took the stand Tuesday. The day of the shooting, she became Joaquin’s girlfriend, Gonzalez told the court, but they already referred to each other as “always soulmates,” and she described him as “magic personified, love personified.” His name, she said, is “etched into the depth of my soul.”
Kelly Petty, mother of victim Alaina Petty, described the late 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 am heartbroken that I won’t be able to watch her become the amazing young woman she was turning into.”
Alain’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 and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.