'We were shielding ourselves with our backpacks': Former students continue to testify in Parkland school shooter trial
For the second day in a row, teachers and former students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas described the shooting that killed 17 and injured 17 others.
Many who testified Wednesday were themselves injured–including Anthony Borges who showed his four bullet wounds to the court. The freshman was on the third floor of the 1200 building when he was shot. He described calling his mother, his best friend and finally his father to say goodbye.
Prosecutors continued questioning witnesses to the shooting on the third day of the sentencing trial, moving from classroom to classroom.
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty in October to the 17 murders and 17 attempted murders committed on Feb. 14, 2018.
Genesis Valentin was in English class when she heard the gunshots.
“At first I thought it was just balloons because everybody had balloons for Valentine's Day,” she told the court.
Valentin hid behind her teacher’s desk. She wasn’t shot but had shrapnel in both legs.
Samantha Mayor was also injured in the leg. She was in psychology class when the shooter fired into her classroom.
“I realized that it couldn't really move my leg. I didn't know why.”
Mayor choked up during her testimony and looked across the courtroom to members of her family who nodded their heads and mouthed “it’s okay.”
“And I asked someone next to me why my knee was hurting, I couldn't really tell and then they let me know that I had been shot in the knee. And then I heard someone on the phone with 911 and they then said that I had also been shot,” she told the court.
Madeline Wilford was in class with Mayor. She was shot four times.
“I was just hiding until I felt myself get hit. I didn't know how many times I just, I just noticed it. And I tried looking behind me to see if anyone can help me. But all I saw was blood on the floor,” she said.
Wilford passed out in the classroom. She woke up two days later in the hospital and needed three surgeries.
Logan Mitchell was also in the classroom. He grabbed a piece of clothing and wrapped Wilford’s wounds.
“I went to where she had fallen in front of the desk and I wrapped the jacket around her arm and then held another piece of it against her abdomen,” he said. He waited until police arrived and pulled Wilford out of the room.
Prosecutors played a video taken by Mitchell in the courtroom. They allowed him to leave beforehand, so he wouldn’t have to watch the video.
Mayor, Wilford and Mitchell were all in Ronit Reoven’s classroom. The teacher testified about helping injured students.
“The kids were on top of each other and hugging each other and holding each other and we were trying to hush each other,“ she said
As the sound of the shooting got farther away, she peeked her head out from behind the desk.
“I started to hear, you know, the whimpering and the moans and groans from the kids that were shot.”
She gave her water bottle to an injured student who was “crying and begging for water.” Then she grabbed a baby blanket she kept in her classroom and used it to help Ben Wikander.
“I used that baby blanket to make a tourniquet for Ben's arm because he was bleeding out so I just made a makeshift tourniquet.”
Ernest Rospierski was also teaching when the shooting started. From his classroom on the third floor he heard the fire alarm first and walked into the hallway. Students walked toward the staircase then ran back, taking shelter from the shooter.
Rospierski was locked out of his classroom with a group of students. He hid them in an alcove and ran with them to the opposite staircase, getting grazed twice along the way.
He then let the students run down the stairs while he held the door shut so the shooter couldn’t enter.
“I kind of froze for a minute. Then somebody tried to push through. And then I waited. And I kind of got a hold of myself and then I was up. Okay, where can I go?”
He ended up locking himself in a bathroom on the second floor until police arrived.
The defense did not question any of the witnesses. They did object to some evidence, like the display of injuries from the gunshots and showing wounds to jurors. Both times they were overruled.
The testimonies evoked emotional reactions from parents who were in the courtroom. The prosecutors again played a video, seen only by court officials but heard by all, taken by a student during the shooting.
Injured students cried for help and children screamed as they realized that their classmates and teachers had been shot.
Veronica Steel described hiding in Scott Beigel’s third-floor classroom. Beigel was shot trying to lock the door to protect students.
“We ran in front of the desk, and threw ourselves on the floor and had our backpacks shielding us…I was laying on top of my three other classmates that were there with me. And we were shielding ourselves with our backpacks. And we had a clear view of the door. And we noticed that the door wasn't closed. It was wide open,” she told the court.
Beigel’s body blocked the door from closing.
The prosecution is tracing the shooter’s every move through witness testimony. Starting with the first floor and moving to the third.
The last witness of the day, Nicolette Miciotta, was leaving another building on campus after hearing fire alarms. She turned around and faced the shooter, who she said she has known since middle school.
She didn’t know that Nikolas Cruz was the shooter at the time, she testified while fighting back tears.
“I said ‘hi,’ he said hi back,” Miciotta said. She struggled to speak. “I said ‘you have any college plans?’ and he said ‘somewhere in Florida.’”
When asked to identify the man she was talking about, she stood and pointed to Cruz.
The shooter kept his head down, holding it in his hand. That was his posture for most of the day, except when the cell-phone video played. At that point he pressed both thumbs into his ears to block out the noise.