Death-penalty trial opens for ‘cold, calculated, manipulative’ Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz


The lead prosecutor spelled out in clinical detail the six minutes and 22 seconds it took Nikolas Cruz to kill 17 people and injure 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Describing confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz as “cold, calculated, manipulative and deadly,” a Broward County prosecutor laid out in horrifying detail the six minutes and 22 seconds it took the gunman to murder 17 people and injure 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Three days before Cruz perpetrated the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre, he issued a warning on a cell phone video about the violence he intended to unleash, lead prosecutor Michael Satz told jurors Monday during opening statements of Cruz’s sentencing trial.

Those jurors will decide if Cruz, who pleaded guilty in October, will be executed or live the rest of his life in prison without a chance at parole.

“‘Hello, my name is Nik,'” Satz said, reciting Cruz’s words. “‘I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018. My goal is at least 20 people with an AR-15 and some tracer rounds. It’s going to be a big event, and when you see me on the news, you’ll know who I am. You’re all going to die. Ah yeah, I can’t wait.’”

WHAT TO WATCH: Next phase of Nikolas Cruz trial begins: What to know ahead of opening statements

Victims’ families in court for Day 1 but pained by prosecutors’ statements

Satz, Broward County’s state attorney for 44 years before leaving the post last year, then proceeded to give a step-by-step account of Cruz’s actions, causing one family member of a victim to run out of the courtroom in tears while others visibly flinched or held their heads in their hands. About 50 family members attended Monday’s hearing.

Satz repeated each victim’s name, age, the number of times they were shot and whether they survived the shooting rampage.

“I’m going to speak to you about the unspeakable,” Satz told the 12-person jury as well as 10 alternates.

Satz then proceeded to do just that, providing gut-wrenching specifics, including the final moments of Joaquin Oliver’s life.

Oliver, 17, was shot in the leg as he tried to run away on the third floor of the building where the shootings took place. Then he couldn’t run any longer and attempted to hide himself in the alcove of a bathroom, but was killed after Cruz walked up to him and fired three more rounds from his AR-15 rifle.

Peter Wang, who reportedly held a door open so other students could escape, was stalked by Cruz and shot 13 times, Satz said.

At least two other students and Athletic Director Chris Hixon were also killed after Cruz returned to shoot them while they lay wounded.

“The murders, all 17, were heinous, atrocious and cruel,” Satz said.

Prosecutors say Cruz warned student: ‘Something bad is about to happen’

The defense delayed its opening statement until the prosecution finishes making its case, which is likely weeks away. The trial is expected to last four months.

Cruz, who is 23 but was 19 when he committed the murders, kept his head down scribbling on a notepad during most of Monday’s court session.

Satz told jurors that Cruz arrived in an Uber at Stoneman Douglas wearing a backpack with hundreds of ammunition rounds and a black case containing the semiautomatic rifle.

Cruz assembled his weapon in a staircase, warning one student, “You better get out of here. Something bad is about to happen.”

At 2:21:33 p.m., Satz said, the “massacre begins.”

Cruz killed nine students and two staff members in the building’s first floor, shooting some of the victims in the hallway and others by firing through classroom windows.

Cruz made his way up to the third floor, where students were scrambling in the hallway after a fire alarm was set off by the percussion of the AR-15 rounds. He killed five students and one teacher on the third floor.

Satz said 139 rounds were fired, including 70 on the first floor and 61 on the third

Students were reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as first shots rang out at school

The jury will decide whether seven aggravating factors detailed by Satz – including Cruz’s criminal history and the “heinous, atrocious and cruel” nature of the murders – outweigh mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s history of mental illness and his upbringing.

After lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill declined to provide an opening statement, the prosecution began calling witnesses.

The first was Brittany Sinitch, a Stoneman Douglas teacher. She and her students were studying “Romeo and Juliet” during fourth period on the first floor of the freshman building.

“We were having so much fun,” Sinitch said. Then the gunfire began.

Danielle Gilbert, a student at the time, recorded videos from inside a classroom that were played in court Monday.

“We were sitting ducks,” Gilbert said.

An injured student can be heard on one of the videos, which could be seen by jurors but not the public, moaning and begging for help while gunshots go off.

“Shut it off,” an unidentified family member shouted.

The shooting ended at 2:27:55, less than seven minutes after it began, Satz said. Cruz was arrested over an hour later about three miles away from the school after stopping at a Subway sandwich shop to buy an Icee.

Contributing: Hannah Phillips, Palm Beach Post

Jorge Milian is a journalist covering Boynton Beach and Lake Worth Beach at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at jmilian@pbpost.com and follow him on Twitter at @caneswatch. Help support our work, subscribe today.