PARKLAND, Fla. — Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to 17 counts of first-degree murder in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Fourteen students and three staff members died on that Valentine's Day shooting in Parkland. On Wednesday, Cruz admitted his guilt as a judge read their names aloud, one by one.
He also pleaded guilty to 17 counts of attempted murder.
The guilty plea sets up a penalty phase where Cruz, 23, will learn whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be sentenced to death. If prosecutors go forward with seeking the death penalty, a jury will ultimately make the final decision in a trial the judge hopes will begin in January.
After Cruz pleaded guilty to all counts, a prosecutor read out facts of the case, including details of the order of events that unfolded on the day of the massacre.
The judge allowed Cruz to give a statement addressed to the families of those killed.
“I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day and that if I were to get a second chance I will do everything in my power to try to help others," Cruz said, in part.
"I believe it’s your decision to decide where I go, whether I live or die — not the jury’s. I believe it’s your decision. I’m sorry," he continued.
The decision by Cruz to plead guilty came unexpectedly. He had been set to go on trial for attacking a Broward County jail guard in 2018. It's now up to the judge to sentence him for that crime.
Preparations have been ongoing for what would be the biggest murder trial in Broward County history, and one of the most infamous crimes ever in Florida.
In 2020, the murder trial was postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Cruz was 19 years old during the Valentine's Day 2018 shooting and was a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
An hour after the attack, Cruz was arrested with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
His lawyers have repeatedly offered to plead guilty in return for a guaranteed sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors have refused to drop their pursuit of the death penalty. A guilty plea avoids a traumatic, lengthy trial and still allows a jury to decide Cruz’s fate.
Following the massacre, it became apparent law enforcement, including the FBI, had missed several red flags in the months leading up to the shooting.
Records show Broward County deputies got at least 18 calls warning them about Cruz from 2008 to 2017, including that "he planned to shoot up the school" and other threats of acts and violence.
The FBI also reportedly failed to act on crucial information about Cruz from the bureau's tipline prior to the shooting.
The plea brings some closure to a South Florida community three years after the attack that sparked a nationwide movement for gun control.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Parkland student activists formed March for Our Lives, a group that rallied hundreds of thousands around the country for tighter gun laws, including a nationally televised march in Washington, D.C.
These are the names of the 17 people killed during the Parkland school shooting:
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Scott Beigel, 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14
Nicholas Dworet, 17
Aaron Fies, 37
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Christopher Hixon, 49
Luke Hoyer, 15
Cara Loughran, 14
Gina Montalto, 14
Joaquin Oliver, 17
Alaina Petty, 14
Meadow Pollack, 18
Helena Ramsay, 17
Alexander Schachter, 14
Carmen Schentrup, 16
Peter Wang, 15
The Associated Press contributed to this report.