Florida school shooting trauma affects young witness
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A young student who witnessed the 2018 massacre at a Florida high school is still too traumatized by the experience to give a formal statement and possibly testify at trial, her lawyer said Wednesday.
Attorney Jay Cohen said the 17-year-old girl is still in mental health counseling and cannot yet talk about what she saw to prosecutors or attorneys for Nikolas Cruz. He is charged with killing 17 people and wounding 17 others in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Some of the victims are worse off than others,” Cohen said. “She is one of those.”
At a hearing Wednesday, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said she would not order the girl to testify but also would not say she was excused. Scherer said she preferred that an accommodation could be worked out.
“There’s only so much I can do. I don’t want to order this young person to submit to this deposition until she’s ready,” Scherer said.
Cohen said the girl was on the third floor of the building where the mass shooting took place. She was one of those hustled into a classroom by Scott Beigle, a geography teacher and cross-country coach who was killed moments later right in front of her.
“She has been a victim and continues to suffer,” Cohen said.
Broward State Attorney Mike Satz described the girl as a key witness to one of the 17 slayings. Satz is seeking the death penalty for Cruz, 21, whose lawyers have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.
“She has information, obviously. She’s a main witness,” Satz said. "I don’t think anyone here wants to do her any harm. If she gets better, that would be great.”
The effort to shield the girl from providing a deposition underscores how difficult it is for many of the shooting survivors to testify about what they went through. Defense attorneys have repeatedly said many such interviews are repeatedly canceled, especially those involving young people.
The girl did not attend Wednesday's hearing. Cruz was there, shackled and wearing a red jail jumpsuit, but did not speak.
No trial date for Cruz has been set, although jury selection is expected to begin in late spring or summer. The next status hearing is in March.