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'We see the nightmare of what took place there': Jurors visit Marjory Stoneman Douglas building where 17 killed

Jurors in Parkland school shooter case view high school crime scene
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Jurors walk around the Ò1200 building,Ó the crime scene where the 2018 shootings took place, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Thursday, August 4, 2022. This during the penalty phase in the trial of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz who previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Cruz waived his right to be present at the viewing. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

WLRN spoke with Rafael Olmeda, a Sun-Sentinel reporter who toured the site after jurors Thursday morning.

For the past three weeks, jurors who will decide the fate of the Parkland school shooter have heard about the massacre that left 17 people dead more than four years ago.

Yesterday, they saw where it happened.

Under the court's supervision, 22 jurors toured Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's 1200 building. A few reporters were allowed to accompany the jury.

WLRN’s Gerard Albert III spoke with Sun-Sentinel reporter Rafael Olmeda hours after he toured the building.

The following is an excerpt of their conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

The building has been left almost intact since the shooting. The descriptions of the 1200 building in court have been horrific could you describe what you saw inside? 

The building amounts to a time capsule at this point, we are transported as we walk in, not to August 4, 2022 — but we're back in February 14, 2018. We can see celebrations as they were happening, we can see teddy bears and boxes of chocolates that will never be opened. We see love letters that are that are written as part of a classroom exercise. And we see the horror, we see the nightmare of what took place there, there is blood everywhere. There are shards of glass, pellets of glass everywhere from when he shot out the windows of so many classroom doors. What he left behind was utter chaos. Nobody should have to see that ever again

Members of the jury were given instructions not to touch or move anything and not to discuss what they saw with each other. They’ve been exposed to so much graphic evidence already, so how did they react today?

Well, we were not able to follow the jury directly, we weren't in the same room as them as they were going through all of the evidence. So we can tell you that as they were walking in, two of the jurors appeared to be offering emotional support to each other as if to say, "we'll get through this together." But that's an observation, where maybe we're reading into it, I'm not sure. But it's what it looked like to us. This jury has been well advised to not discuss the case, to not let their feelings be known, to not share anything with anyone including each other. And as they were leaving, it was clear that they took that duty very seriously because they did not betray emotion. They did not betray horror, they did not betray heartbreak. They looked like people who had been to a building because they were instructed to do, so they walked through it and they walked out.

Lawyers argued about whether or not they should let jurors see the school. What is the prosecution hoping to achieve by showing jurors the classrooms and hallways that have been preserved as evidence for nearly 4 and a half years now?

The prosecution has to prove certain aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. Among those factors is that this crime was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel. That it was cold, calculated and premeditated and that it caused great bodily harm or the threat of great bodily harm. We can appreciate that from the testimony. But being in the building magnifies the scope of each of those elements. This jury now has more than they ever have before, [gotten a] sense of what it was like to be a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on February 14, 2018.

Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.