Parkland school shooter pleads guilty to 17 murders - and could face death penalty

Cruz pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people, including 14 students, at his former high school Credit: AP

Nikolas Cruz has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, Florida in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. He could now face the death penalty.

The 23-year-old was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder.

He pleaded guilty to all counts.

Some relatives of the victims sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom. Some shook their heads or broke down in tears as Cruz pled guilty. He apologised for his crimes.

"I’m very sorry for what I did... I can’t live with myself sometimes”, Cruz said. He added that he wished it was up to the survivors to decide whether he lived or died.

Mourners visit a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Credit: AP

Cruz faced a long list of questions from Judge Elizabeth Scherer to confirm his mental competency.

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina died in the shooting, said : “Today we saw a cold and calculating killer confess to the murder of my daughter Gina and 16 other innocent victims at their school.”

Mr Montalto, who is president of Stand with Parkland - a group that campaigns for gun safety control, said that Cruz's guilty pleas "are the first step in the judicial process but there is no change for my family."

He said: "Our bright, beautiful, and beloved daughter Gina is gone while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison.”

The father of another victim said he had visited the grave of his daughter this week, to ask her for strength to get through today's hearing.

Nikolas Cruz had been expelled from the school in Parkland before returning a year later armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle Credit: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP

Speaking of his daughter Jaime, Fred Guttenberg said: “She was the toughest, wisest person I ever knew."

Mr Guttenberg added: "My daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter despised bullies and would put herself in the middle of someone being bullied to make it stop.” The Valentine's Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 was one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. Fourteen students and three school staff died during Cruz's seven-minute rampage through the school.

Cruz had been expelled from the school a year earlier, and had a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behaviour that dated back to preschool.

Some students at the school launched the March for Our Lives Movement in the wake of the attack. The group campaigns for stronger gun restrictions in the US. Because Cruz pleaded guilty, his defence team will be able to argue for him to be spared the death sentence on the grounds that his plea shows he took responsibility.

Lead prosecutor Harold Pryor, who is the Broward state attorney, opposes the death penalty but has said he will follow the law.Judge Scherer will start screening the jury next month, after which testimony could begin in January.