Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic descriptions of gun violence that readers might find disturbing.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 1200 building has been sealed since the massacre on February 14, 2018.
On Thursday, jurors in the sentencing phase of the school shooter’s trial walked through the undisturbed scene, where the blood of the victims still stains classroom floors.
Bullet holes also mark the walls of the Parkland, Florida, school where Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members.
A lock of dark hair remains on a floor more than four years after the body of a victim was taken away. Valentine’s Day gifts and cards are strewn about, as shards of glass crunched beneath of the feet of visitors.
These are the unsettling notes from a group of reporters allowed to enter the building after jurors completed their walk-through to provide details to media outlets across the country, including CNN.
We entered from the east stairwell just as Cruz did. In the stairwell where Cruz entered and assembled his gun, a stuffed white teddy bear lay dirtied on the floor next to a bag with Valentine’s Hearts on it, probably dropped by a fleeing student.
Everywhere you walk throughout the building there are shards of broken safety glass that crunch loudly as you walk over them. They are especially loud and crunchy in the threshold of each door.
Brittany Sinitch’s English class: No one was killed or wounded here, but this is where Cruz fired first his shots. Textbooks on the desks were open to a section discussing Mercutio. A Valentine’s teddy bear was on a desk. A 2017 Stoneman Douglas football poster was on the wall – photo of the team with the motto: Faith Family Football. A pink note wishing a Happy Valentine’s Day sat on a desk next to a worksheet belonging to student Sarah Louis. A clear plastic drink cup sat half-full on a desk, its contents now a dark brown sludge. On a desk a Valentine’s Day card that reads “I don’t just like you, I really, really like you.”
Study Hall led by Spanish teacher Juletta Matlock: There is dried blood outside the door where Luke Hoyer, Martin Duque and Gina Montalto were killed. Just inside the door, some earphones with a long cord lay on the floor. The book “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains on a desk. On the wall is a poster titled “Let’s Guac About It” with basic Spanish words: Padre, Madre, Abuelo, Abuela.” On another wall is a poster of common Spanish phrases and colors.
On the far wall away from the door is a table with a large pool of blood. This is where Carmen Schentrup died from a bullet wound to the head. She and the children hid behind the teacher’s desk, which is in the southeast corner of the room. In front of the desk where Maddy Wilford lay wounded, the teacher’s desk phone lay on the floor. On the walls behind the desk are photos of what appears to be the teacher’s family and a 8 X 10 drawing of President Trump with the saying “We will win in everything we do.” On the north wall is a bulletin board with about two dozen wallet size photos of students. A lone white sneaker remains on the floor.
Hixon, after he was shot dashing through the west door, took cover in an alcove in front of the elevator about 20 feet from the door. Cruz shot him a second time as he passed, but he remained alive and spent about 10 minutes trying to get up, according to video played in court. There is a large bloodstain on the floor and on the wall. A black rubber shoe, possibly, a Croc, lay on the floor there.
She taught Holocaust Studies. This is where Nick Dworet and Helena Ramsay died.
On the whiteboard is the hashtag #TogetherWeRemember. There are also references to eyewitness accounts. On a table are two yellowed Sun Sentinel newspapers, there are bullet strike marks on desks, laptops still open, headphones, and a water bottle still on a desk. On the floor is a tossed 2017-2018 school year planner. Blood-stained markings where Dworet and Ramsay died. Their blood coats a book called “Tell Them We Remember” by Susan Bachrach and “Listen to the Wind” by Greg Mortenson There is a Holocaust sign on a bulletin board with the words “we will never forget”. One desk had a white plug and earbuds on top. Indicating the rapid way everything unfolded
The learning objective on the board “To be aware of the world and its surroundings.”
No one classroom had as many of the murdered and wounded as Dara Hass’ English class. A blue folder with Alaina Petty’s name still on the desk – right behind that – between the teacher’s desk and the wall is a large bloodstain. Bullet holes in the walls.
Right next to the bloodstain on the floor where Alyssa Alhadeff and Alaina Petty died – is a handwritten paper about Malala Yousafzai – “the girl who wanted to go to school” – the paper goes on to say “a bullet went straight to her head but not her brain” ending with “In conclusion, we the people should have freedom for education.”
(Note: Malala is the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban – she has fought to advocate for education access for girls and women).
Essays written by the students remain on their desks, never to be recovered. “We go to school every day of the week and we take it all for granted,” one student wrote. “We cry and complain without knowing how lucky we are to be able to learn.”
On cabinet doors, a previous assignment is on display. It shows headstones with epitaphs written by the students.
“R.I.P. Here lies pretty.”
“R.I.P. Here lies funny.”
“R.I.P. Here lies nice.”
Next to a shoe on the ground is a pink Valentine’s Day stuffed animal and balloons.
The pooling of blood looks aged, dark, caked, flaky.
Desks are covered in a thin layer of dust, a landline phone lays upside on the ground.
At Alex Schachter’s desk – a bloodstain on other side of silver bar that connects the plastic seat to the desk.
Near west stairs – where Hixon was shot – there is a discarded shoe.
Quote on hallway between rooms 1221 and 1229
“Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” -James Dean
Further down the hallway it reads:
“Never live in the past but always Lear form it.” – anonymous
A large heart shaped box of Valentine’s Day chocolates on a desk.
On another an open pen and pencil case.
Calculators still on desks, spiral notebooks still open to math subject, students were working on algebra problems.
“Class of 2018” photos of students in casual settings (not formal pics).
Entering the hallway from the east side stairs, the first thing you see is a pool of caked blood that’s much smaller than others. This is where Scott Beigel’s body fell in front of classroom 1256. Unlike other rooms, the window on his door is intact. Beigel died holding the door open. His body blocked the door from closing. The children hiding in the front of his room were vulnerable, but Cruz did not choose to enter it.
Plastic world maps about the size of a placemat on most desks. There were three wall clocks lying face down by the door. On Beigel’s desk were worksheets comparing Christianity and Islam. On the whiteboard, notes on the 2018 Winter Olympics medal-winners. A deflated Valentine’s Day balloon lay on the ground.
The door is pushed open – like others to signify that Cruz shot into it – and a “No Bully Zone” hangs on the inside. The creative writing assignment for the day is written on the whiteboard: “How to write the perfect love letter.”
The teacher’s desk is to the left and one can imagine students huddled behind it. The desks are in disarray, some pushed on top of each other from what was described in testimony as a mad rush back to get back inside. Atop one desk is an enviable Valentine’s Day spread – a large gift bag with tissues stuffed inside it, a box of round, silver-wrapped candies, and a heart-shaped box.
Moving down the hallway, dry, cracked rose petals mixed with the glass shards lend a cinematic feel to the scene. There’s a large pool of blood in the middle of the third-floor hallway where Anthony Borges was injured. A sign above the water fountains has a quote from Star Wars’ Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Beneath the water fountains, three large pools of dried blood mark the spots to where authorities dragged the bodies of Cara Loughran, Meadow Pollack, and Joaquin Oliver. A faint trail of blood traces the path of the girls’ bodies from the alcove where their bodies fell after being shot. A pool of blood is observed in the alcove outside 1249 where Pollack and Loughran died. They remained there, injured, after the rest of the group that was huddled in the alcove with Ernie Rospierski fled down the hallway. Then Cruz returned and shot them again.
There is an unfinished chess game. A friend of Peter Yang testified they were playing a game when the fire alarm went off.
Valentine’s Day balloons, flower petals, stuffed white bear.
One of the most disturbing sights is the alcove outside the bathroom where Joaquin Oliver died. There’s a large pool of blood and holes from bullets that were fired at him at close range. There are blood drops leading into the alcove from the first shots where he was wounded. But most of the blood is from when Cruz caught up to Oliver in the alcove and fired. We know from the evidence that Oliver was conscious after he was hit. He could not run when the others fled. He heard Cruz coming. He heard the shots into Pollack and Loughran. He knew he was next. We know from testimony that he held his hands up to protect himself. Two bullets in the wall show how vain that attempt was. There’s a lock of dark hair on the floor near where his body would have been. The corner of a heart-shaped paper Valentine’s Day decoration (perhaps was a card) is collapsed, presumably was drenched with blood
Moving down the hall toward the west wall, bullets scraped against the south walls, an indication that Cruz was aiming for the fleeing students and not just randomly firing ahead of him.
We see the corner in front of the stairwell where Peter Wang fell after being shot as he ran down the hallway. The wall is drawn into squares resembling search quadrants. It is stained with dark splotches of blood and yellow-greenish material that was described in testimony as brain matter. Pin-sized holes in the wall have circles drawn around them and are marked “fragment D” and “fragment F.”
There are six bullet holes in the window above where Wang died. Cruz tried to blow the windows out to shoot the fleeing students.
Jaime Guttenberg was struck outside the stairwell but fell inside. There is very little blood where she fell. The bullet never left her body.
In the teacher’s lounge, a windowpane facing the 1300 building has 4 bullet holes. Another windowpane next to it has another bullet hole. These overlook the courtyard and a parking lot where students were fleeing.
A poster next to a windowpane reads like so:
“Typical or Troubled?
Notice: Notice if you are seeing troubling signs in a student.
Talk: Talk with the student
Act: Share observations with school mental health staff
Changing a life’s course.
School Social Work 754-321-1618
Family Counseling 754-321-1590
Broward Public Schools”