PARKLAND, Fla. – More than three years after the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, the 23-year-old gunman pleaded guilty on Wednesday to 17 counts of first-degree murder and all 17 counts of attempted murder.
The attack devastated the families of the 17 victims who were killed and traumatized those who were injured, while subsequently fueling national discussions about school security, mental health and gun control.
After the pleas were entered, some of the families of his victims reacted on social media, many of them expressing contempt, heartbreak and a desire for the harshest punishment.
During the hearing, the shooter was allowed to make a statement to the families, which he used to offer an apology.
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” the confessed killer said. “If I were to get a second chance I would do everything in my power to try to help others, and I am doing this for you, and I do not care if you do not believe me.”
The apology rang hollow to the families of the victims, including Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter, Gina, was killed in the attack.
“I believe it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in my life,” Montalto told News4Jax. “If you wanted to do something for the families, you should have started by not murdering our loved ones, not taking them from the love of their family and their community. Absolutely ridiculous to be forced to listen to that, quite frankly.”
Montalto described the plea hearing as the second-most uncomfortable experience of his life.
“My wife and I were very uncomfortable being in the room with the murderer of our daughter,” Montalto said. “Sadly, he’s also the reason for the first most uncomfortable thing in my life, which was when I held my daughter’s cold, dead body. This man is a cold and calculating murderer.”
Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex, died in the attack, released a statement on social media, calling for the death penalty.
“I find no peace in today[’s] guilty plea,” Schachter said. “Alex’s murderer is a sadistic killer that deserves to die. He should be afforded the same mercy he gave the MSD17. Justice will NOT be served until he no longer breathes the air on this earth.”
My statement:— Max Schachter (@maxschachter) October 20, 2021
“I find no peace in today guilty plea. Alex’s murderer is a sadistic killer that deserves to die. He should be afforded the same mercy he gave the MSD17. Justice will NOT be served until he no longer breathes the air on this earth.”
David Hogg, who was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the attack, has been one of the most vocal advocates for gun reform in the aftermath.
“One day we will end gun violence in this country and stories of school shootings/every day gun violence will be left in our history books- not our headlines,” Hogg said in a tweet Wednesday.
One day we will end gun violence in this country and stories of school shootings/every day gun violence will be left in our history books- not our headlines.— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) October 20, 2021
That day will come when Americans of all parties and generations unite for peace- for our right to not be shot.
“You know, as much as we care about closing this chapter, and getting justice for what happened in Parkland, our No. 1 priority is making it so that this doesn’t happen again in the future,” Hogg told News4Jax Wednesday. “The reality is, if we had a well-functioning government, a truly representative one, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, the shooting wouldn’t have happened because these things would have ended way before Columbine.”
Debra Hixon, the widow of the school’s athletic director, Christopher Hixon, told reporters after the plea hearing that the gunman’s apology fell flat with the families of his victims.
“Hearing all of those people and how they died, ‘12 shots, eight shots, three shots...,’” Hixon said. “That’s not someone who was at all remorseful for what he was doing. He was adding up points.”
Several family members of the victims have since launched organizations advocating for gun reform, increased school safety, mental health practices among other platforms. A list of links to some of those organizations is below: