Jennifer and Tony Montalto fought back tears as they described their 14-year-old, Gina – one of 14 students who died Feb. 14, 2018, when Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“She loved books so much, she loved how they felt, smelled, and she once told me she wanted to live in a library,” recalled Jennifer, wiping tears from her eyes, as her husband sat next to her in the witness box at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Gina was an avid reader of Harry Potter, a talented artist and a Girl Scout – but most importantly she was a daughter and a sister, Jennifer said.
“For the rest our lives, I will live with the unspeakable loss and pain that comes with knowing there is an empty seat at our table,” the grieving mother told jurors. “We will continue to turn to our front door wishing for Gina to walk through it.”
Tony said that he was wearing the same clothes Wednesday that he wore when he took Gina to their final father-daughter dance. He said that her murder has been hardest on Gina’s little brother, Anthony, who lives in the shadow of the tragedy.
“Now there’s a deafening silence broken only by the deep sighs and soft sobbing that accompany what used to be happy memories of my children playing, making breakfast together on Mother’s Day or preparing holiday meals with me,” Tony told jurors, as Cruz, seated at the defense table, showed no emotion.
Max Schachter, the father of 14-year-old Alex, who died at his desk in English class, struggled to speak through tears, as he remembered his son.
Alex was a trombonist, a New England Patriots fan and a movie aficionado, who has left behind two brothers and a sister.
“I wish every single day that this was a nightmare that I could just wake up from,” Schachter said. “I want my family back. I want my sweet Alex back.”
Before the jury was called into the courtroom, the attorneys and the judge discussed the logistics of an upcoming visit to the Stoneman Douglas building, which has been preserved as a crime scene since the shooting.
The visit will not be livestreamed. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in October. The penalty trial will determine whether he’s sentenced to death or life without parole.