A mourner kneels at markers commemorating the 17 students, teachers and staff who died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., days afterward. File Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday officially entered guilty pleas in the shooting deaths of 17 students and staffers at his former high school in Parkland, Fla., more than three years ago -- and will now let a jury decide whether he will die for the crimes.
Cruz went on a rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. He originally pleaded not guilty to all charges of murder and attempted murder, but his attorneys indicated last week that he wanted to change those pleas to guilty.
Speaking to the court on Wednesday, Cruz apologized to the victims' families and said he has nightmares about the shooting in Parkland, which is located about 10 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale and 40 miles north of Miami.
In all, Cruz pleaded guilty to murder in the shooting deaths of 14 students and three school staffers, and attempted murder for injuring 17 others. Now 23, Cruz was 19 at the time of the shooting and a former student at MSD.
A mourner is seen at a candlelight vigil in Parkland, Fla., on February 15, 2018, for the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a day earlier. File Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI
"I'm very sorry for what I did," he told the victims' relatives, some of whom watched the hearing remotely on Wednesday. "I have to live with it every day. If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything within my power to help others. I'm doing this for you.
"I don't care if you do not believe me. I love you," he added. "I know that you don't believe me, but I have to live with this every day. It brings me nightmares, and I can't live with myself sometimes."
Cruz's comments came after prosecutors detailed his movements through the school on the day of the attack and each victim he shot. The account moved many in the courtroom to tears, and others visibly struggled to hold back emotions.
Prosecutors described how one student survived the initial phase of the killer's rampage, only to have Cruz return and shoot him a dozen times.
Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer went over each of the 34 counts against Cruz, repeating to him the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty.
The change of plea gives defense attorneys an opportunity to argue before sentencing that Cruz has taken responsibility for the crimes. Prosecutors have said they still intend to seek the death penalty.
Jury selection for Cruz's sentencing is scheduled to begin in January.
Although Cruz won't be sentenced for the Parkland shootings for a few months, Scherer has sentenced him to nearly 26 years in prison on separate charges -- to which he pleaded guilty on Friday over a fight with a sheriff's deputy while in jail.
The Parkland massacre sparked student walkouts and other protests across the United States, with many surviving MSD students leading calls for gun safety and accountability from elected officials to keep students safe at school.
March for Our Lives, which formed in the days after the Parkland shootings to galvanize young people, said in a statement Wednesday that it had no comment on the gunman's plea and asked the media to refrain from using his name.
The guilty pleas would bring them no peace, it said.
"It has been nearly four years since the shooting. We are appalled and disgusted that policymakers continue to waffle and play games, rather than do what needs to be done to prevent any more gun deaths. We are not at peace, we are as angry and determined as ever."
David Hogg, an MSD survivor who is now a junior at Harvard University, was among those who fought for gun control after the shooting.
"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 tweeted Wednesday. "That day will come when Americans of all parties and generations unite for peace -- for our right to not be shot."
Local area students participate in the National School Walkout protest for school safety, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. The youth-organized protest is to bring attention to school safety, protest gun violence and to honor the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo