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Parkland parents say they're "disgusted" with jurors after they spare shooter's life: "I pray that animal suffers every day of his life in jail"

Parkland shooter spared death sentence
Parkland shooter spared death sentence 02:30

A jury recommended the Parkland school shooter be sentenced to life in prison without parole on Thursday, sparing him the death penalty. Some parents of those killed in the shooting said they were angry at the decision, with one father calling the shooter an "animal." 

Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. Last year, he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and an additional 17 counts of attempted murder. 

Under Florida law, a unanimous vote is required for a person to be sentenced to death. Jurors' only other option was life in prison. 

Lori Alhadeff, the mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the students killed during the shooting, said at a press conference after the decision was read that she was "beyond disappointed and frustrated with this outcome." 

Her husband, Dr. Ilan Alhadeff, said he was "disgusted" with the legal system and the jurors. 

"That you can allow 17 dead and 17 others shot and wounded and not give the death penalty? What do we have the death penalty for? What's the purpose of it?" Alhadeff said, adding that he believed the jurors set a precedent on Thursday that could affect future mass killings. 

"I pray that animal suffers every day of his life in jail," he said. "He should have a short life." 

Verdict Reached in Confessed Gunman Nikolas Cruz Trial For Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas Mass School Shooting
Ryan Petty comforts Ilan Alhadeff as they await the decision in the trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse on October 13, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Amy Beth Bennett / Getty Images

When asked by a reporter what he would ask the jurors, Alhadeff said: "What were you thinking?"

"This is not personal beliefs, it's not about your religious values. It's about the heinous crime that was committed," he said. "There is no recovery. Jail is about rehabbing someone. There's no rehabbing." 

While asked if there was relief that he no longer had to go to court because the decision had been reached, Alhadeff said it doesn't matter. 

"We have to go to the cemetery to go see our daughter," he said.  

Following the Parkland shooting, many parents of those killed, including the Alhadeffs, turned to activism. Lori became the president of the "Make Our Schools Safe," a nonprofit dedicated to protecting schools. 

The couple was in the courtroom along with the families of several other victims when the judge read the lengthy decision, revealing the decision for each count. Lori's tattoo, which reads "Live for Alyssa," was prominent on her forearm. It features a soccer ball and an infinity sign — combining Alyssa's love for soccer with the nonprofit's logo. 

Ilan and Lori Alhadeff in court
Ilan and Lori Alhadeff react as they hear that their daughter's murderer will not receive the death penalty as the verdicts are announced in the trial of Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse October 13, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Alhadeffs' daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Amy Beth Bennett / Getty Images

One of the main focuses of "Make our Schools Safe" is campaigning for Alyssa's Law, which has been passed in several states, including New Jersey, where the family is originally from, and Florida. The law pushes for the installation of panic alarms so that teachers and students can immediately contact law enforcement in case of an emergency. 

The mother of Joaquin Oliver, who was killed during the tragedy, also paid tribute to her son while in the courtroom. Patricia Padauy-Oliver wore a necklace with her son's name, as she often does while advocating against gun violence.

She and her husband also founded a nonprofit, Change the Ref, in their son's memory. The organization aims to empower younger generations to advocate for gun reform. 

Oliver's sister thanked prosecutors working on the case, but said the family is "shocked and disgusted" with the decision.

"It should have been clear as day, extremely transparent, a death sentence," she said. "If not now the death penalty, then when?" 

She said there's nothing the defense said that would merit a life sentence rather than a death sentence. 

Patricia Oliver, whose son Joaquin Oliver was killed in the Parkland shooting, wears a medallion with a picture of Joaquin and a necklace bearing his name during the opening of the "Walls of Demand" exhibition to mark the first anniversary of the shooting at the Center for Contemporary Political Art in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2019. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Fred Guttenberg, who also became an activist after his daughter, Jamie, was killed in the shooting, said he was "stunned and devastated" by the decision

"There are 17 victims that did not receive justice today," he said. 

"The monster's going to go to prison — and in prison, I'll hope and pray he receives the kind of mercy from prisoners that he showed to my daughter and the 16 others," he added. "He is going to to prison and he is going to die in prison and I am waiting to read the news on that." 

Guttenberg founded the nonprofits Orange Ribbons for Jaime, which supports causes that were important to his daughter, and Orange Ribbons For Gun Safety, which advocates for policies that reduce gun violence. 

Max Schachter, the father of Alex Schachter, who was also killed, tweeted that the shooter "got everything he wanted" with the jury's decision.

"Prior to the shooting the Parkland murderer said he wanted to kill 20 people. He stopped after killing 17 including my sweet little boy Alex," he wrote. "Afterwards he didn't want to die. He wanted to live. Today he got everything he wanted. While our loved ones are in the cemetery." 

He founded Safe Schools for Alex, which provides school safety best practices and resources to help keep kids safe.

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