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Law officers describe pleas for help in the aftermath of Parkland mass shooting carnage

July 22, 2022 Updated Fri., July 22, 2022 at 11:48 a.m.

Broward Sheriff 's Office Sgt. Richard Van Der Eems on Friday describes the scene he encountered at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the mass shooting. Confessed gunman Nikolas Cruz is on trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Cruz has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.   (Mike Stocker / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS)
Broward Sheriff 's Office Sgt. Richard Van Der Eems on Friday describes the scene he encountered at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the mass shooting. Confessed gunman Nikolas Cruz is on trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Cruz has pleaded guilty to 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings.  (Mike Stocker / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS)
By Natalia Galicza and Scott Travis South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Law enforcement officers described injured Parkland students pleading for help and finding body after body of people who were defenseless, or others who spent their final breaths providing cover for students to escape, during the fifth day of testimony in the penalty trial of the confessed gunman.

But before any of those officers took the stand on Friday, defense lawyer Tamara Curtis requested that the prosecution stop asking witnesses to identify shooter Nikolas Cruz, arguing that “important death sentences are not imposed arbitrarily or capriciously” by jurors being exposed to constant irrelevant evidence.

Jeff Marcus, assistant state attorney, replied, saying when you ask a jury to put someone to death, “they need to be very certain this is the person that committed the crime.”

Capt. Nicholas Mazzei of the Coral Springs Police Department was the first witness called to the stand on Friday.

“I observed officers on scene,” Mazzei said. “As I moved closer to the building I observed a body lying on the ground.”

It was Aaron Feis, a football coach for the team at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who died shielding students from gunfire.

“I checked him for vitals,” Mazzei testified, “realized he was deceased.”

Richard Van Der Eems, a sergeant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, was the next witness. Van Der Eems received a call about a possible shooting and described approaching the east side of the building before entering through double doors. Once he entered, he witnessed other officers attempting to help the children caught in the midst of chaos.

“They were clearing kids out of the room,” Van Der Eems said. He and other officers went to the third floor of the building to find a student raising his hand up for help.

“He was trying to say something,” Van Der Eems told the courtroom on Friday. “We grabbed him, drug him back to west side stairwell.”

The student was Anthony Borges, a freshman at Stoneman Douglas who had been shot five times. Earlier in the week, Borges had shown his scars to the jury.

Detective David Alfin of the Coral Springs Police Department also testified he heard someone calling for help from a hallway on the third floor. He followed the voice and found the wounded Borges.

”I was still looking down the hallway, covering, in case we encountered the subject,” Alfin said. “The officers dragged him (Borges) back to get him into the hallway to provide medical care.”

Before Alfin heard the cries for help from a surviving student, he saw death — students who had perished moments before help arrived.

Alfin said he cleared several rooms in the hallway and found a body propped up against a bathroom door. In the courtroom, he identified the student as Joaquin Oliver.

”I had to remove him from the door so that it could be checked to ensure nobody was inside of it,” Alfin said.

Fred Guttenberg wiped tears from his eyes as Alfin described finding Jaime Guttenberg, a 15-year-old Stoneman Douglas student who died in the shooting.

”I checked her vital signs for breath and for pulse, I found none,” Alfin testified on Friday. “And I checked several times.”

Her father dropped his head in the courtroom as he listened on Friday, the first day this week he appeared in court without his wife, Jennifer. Later, when the courtroom broke for recess, Mitch Dworet, father of 17-year-old Nicholas Dworet who died in school that day, walked out of the chambers with his arm across Fred Guttenberg’s shoulders.

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