Parkland Survivor Recounts Terror During Penalty Phase of Shooter's Trial: 'No Way to Protect Ourselves'

Prosecutors seek the death penalty, while the shooter's defense attorneys have asked for life in prison

Opening statements for the penalty phase of the Parkland, Fla., school shooter's trial began Monday in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom.

The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 23, has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Prosecutors seek the death penalty, while the shooter's defense attorneys have asked for life in prison.

On the trial's first day, the prosecution presented emotional student testimonies, and harrowing recordings of screams, cries and gunshots captured by victims waiting to be rescued, multiple outlets report.

According to The Washington Post, some family members of victims left the courtroom while the recordings played. One woman pleaded for the video to be shut off, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

State witness Danielle Gilbert, who was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries during direct examination in the penalty phase trial of Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, July 18, 2022. - Cruz, who has pleaded guilty to gunning down 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, is on trial Monday with jurors set to hand down either the death penalty or a life sentence.

While hiding in a classroom, former student Danielle Gilbert captured cell phone footage of the terror, which was presented by prosecutors, per The Post.

"We were just sitting — kind of like sitting ducks," Gilbert, who took the stand, said of the massacre, which went on for about six minutes. "We had no way to protect ourselves."

The cries of a boy begging, "someone help me," were also reportedly captured on the recordings, according to the Sun Sentinel.

During opening statements Monday, prosecutor Michael Satz, described the shooter, who was 19 at the time of the attack, as "cold, calculative, manipulative and deadly," according to CNN.

He said days before the shooting, the shooter recorded a video on his cell phone, introducing himself and announcing his intention to become "the next school shooter of 2018," Satz told the courtroom, per the outlet.

Satz argued numerous aggravating factors made capital punishment an appropriate sentence. He called the mass shooting "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel," the network reports.

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He said the shooter fired 139 rounds.

"These aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigating circumstances, anything about the defendant's background, anything about his childhood, anything about his schooling, anything about his mental health, anything about his therapy, anything about his care," Satz said.

The defense opted to delay its opening statements until later in the trial, per multiple reports.

The shooter's public defender, Melisa McNeill, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

After hearing from both sides, the case's 12-person jury will be tasked with deciding if the shooter will be sentenced to death or condemned to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, following his guilty plea.

For the shooter to receive the death penalty, all jurors must agree on the sentence.

The victims of the attack were Luke Hoyer, 15; Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Martin Duque, 14; Chris Hixon, 49; Scott Beigel, 35; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Cara Loughran, 14; Peter Wang, 15; Gina Montalto, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Alex Schachter, 14, and Helena Ramsey, 17. All died from fatal gunshot wounds.

17 others were injured in the shooting.

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