Roses brought to honor love that Valentine’s Day in 2018 lay withered, their dried and cracked petals strewn across classroom floors still smeared with the blood of victims shot dead by a former student more of four years.
Bullet holes punctured the walls and shards of glass from the windows shattered by gunfire crunched underfoot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where gunman Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff.
Nothing had been changed except for the removal of the victims’ bodies and some personal items.
Twelve jurors and 10 alternates who will decide whether Cruz gets the death penalty or life in prison made a rare visit to the scene of the massacre Thursday, retracing Cruz’s steps through the three-story freshman building, known as Building 12.
After they left, a group of reporters were allowed in for a much quicker public first view. The sight was deeply disturbing.
Large pools of dried blood still stained the classroom floors. A lock of black hair lay on the ground where the body of one of the victims once lay. A single black rubber shoe stood in a hallway. Burnished rose petals were strewn across a hallway where six people died, and Valentine’s Day gifts, such as teddy bears, and cards lay where they had fallen in the havoc.
Class after class, open notebooks displayed unfinished lessons. A blood-covered book titled Tell Them We Remember lay on a bullet-riddled desk in the classroom where a teacher, Ivy Schamis, was teaching students about the Holocaust.
A sign attached to a bulletin board read: “We will never forget.” Two students died there.
In the class of English teacher Dara Hass, where most of the students were shot, there were essays on Malala Yousafzaipakistani teen shot by the taliban to go to school, and who has since become a global advocate for access to education for women and girls.
The door to room 1255, teacher Stacey Lippel’s classroom, was pushed open – like others to signify that Cruz fired into it. Hanging on a wall inside was a sign that read, “No Bully Zone.” The day’s creative writing assignment was on the whiteboard: “How to write the perfect love letter.”
And still hanging on the wall in a second-story hallway was a quote from James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
In Professor Scott Beigel’s geography class, a laptop was always open on his desk. Student assignments comparing the tenets of Christianity and Islam remained, some graded, some not.
Prosecutors, who closed their case after the jury visit, hope the visit will help prove that Cruz’s actions were cold, calculated, heinous and cruel; created a great risk of death for many people and “interfered with a government function” – all aggravating factors under Florida’s capital punishment law.
Under Florida court rules, neither the judge nor the attorneys were allowed to talk to jurors — and jurors weren’t allowed to converse with each other — when they retraced Cruz’s path on Feb. 14, 2018. , as he moved from floor to floor, shooting down hallways and into classrooms.
Prior to the tour, jurors had already seen surveillance video of the shooting and photographs of its aftermath.
The building has been sealed off and the Broward County School District plans to tear it down whenever prosecutors approve it. For the moment, it is an exhibit.
Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October to 17 counts of first-degree murder.
After jurors returned to the courtroom on Thursday after the rare crime scene tour, the mothers of two victims testified that the massacre cast a permanent pall over not just every Valentine’s Day, but other celebrations important family.
Helena Ramsay, 17, died on her father’s birthday. “Today will never be a celebration and can never be the same for him again,” said his mother, Anne Ramsay.
Hui Wang, whose 15-year-old son Peter was killed, said the shooting took place on the eve of the Lunar New Year. A planned celebration was canceled that year and every year since. “This day of unity has become a day that hurts the most,” she said.