FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, the gunman bought a drink at a Subway and then headed to McDonald’s, where he tried to catch a ride with a student who was waiting for his mother.
The actions of confessed gunman Nikolas Cruz in the minutes after the shooting were described in detail by multiple witnesses on Thursday in the penalty trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Surveillance videos from the fast-food restaurants were displayed, showing Cruz’s interactions with the Subway store manager and at McDonald’s with student John Wilford, younger brother to then-17-year-old shooting victim Madeleine Wilford.
John Wilford was in a study hall when police evacuated the class. “Everybody was kind of panicked; we didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
He called his mother, and asked her to pick him up at the nearby McDonald’s. Video shown in the courtroom on Thursday shows him sliding into a booth, fidgeting and repeatedly dialing his cellphone.
“I tried to get hold of my sister, but she wasn’t picking up,” Wilford testified.
Moments later, Cruz sat down across from him in the booth.
“Nik Cruz came and sat down next to me. I didn’t think much of it; I was just panicked,” Wilford said, explaining he had never seen Cruz before.
“I saw him sit down. I was telling him this is all chaotic, all the helicopters and SWAT cars, and said ‘What do you think it could be?’” Wilford said, saying Cruz just sat with his head down. “I was doing most of the talking.”
When Wilford started to leave, Cruz followed.
“He asked me for a ride; he was pretty insistent on it,” Wilford said. “I was just trying to get home. My sister wasn’t answering her phone. I had a bad gut feeling.”
Earlier on Thursday, Benjamin Wikander, who was a senior at Stoneman Douglas at the time of the shooting, said he heard “a bunch of loud bangs” in the hallway about 20 minutes before his class began. Wikander and his classmates ran into Ronit Reoven’s advanced placement psychology classroom for safety.
”Everyone kind of ran over to the corner of the classroom,” Wikander said. “And then, I don’t remember exactly how long (afterward), but eventually 10 shots came through the window of our classroom.”
Samantha Mayor, a fellow student in Reoven’s class, sat behind Wikander. Mayor was shot in the knee and had her kneecap shattered.
Wikander heard and saw the bullets whiz by, but he didn’t process the feeling of his own wound until he became unable to use his right arm.
”I felt like I was lifting my right arm totally up like this,” Wikander told the courtroom on Thursday morning, raising his arm upright to demonstrate. “When I saw that it was just laying on the side of me, but it completely felt like I was lifting it, that’s when I guess I realized that something was wrong.”
With a baby blanket she used to cover a coffee maker in the classroom, Reoven applied a homemade tourniquet to Wikander’s arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Wikander was later carried out of classroom 1213 by law enforcement and given a real tourniquet. Still, he sustained radial nerve damage, and wears a brace even four years later.
Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. The trial is to determine his sentence, life in prison or death by execution. Jury selection began in April, and the trial is expected to end in October.
Testimony will resume on Friday.