The son of the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was killed in the 2018 shooting left the courtroom as the jury’s verdict was read aloud.
Corey Hixon, son of Chris Hixon, was seen walking out of the courtroom as the judge read the recommendation that Nikolas Cruz be spared the death penalty.
Cruz killed Hixon, who entered the school to try to stop the shooting, and 16 others. Mr. Hixon was 49 years old.
The jury found that the aggravating factors rose to the level of death, but that they were outweighed by the mitigating factors outlined by the defense.
Debbie Hixon, Hixon’s wife, told reporters after the verdict: “I am completely devastated and shocked by this.”
“How do any of these mitigating factors offset these aggravating factors that everyone agreed were true?” asked. “How do you say ‘yeah, it’s cruel,’ that it was heinous, that it was planned, and we all agree on that, but oh, she might have had a mental illness or had trouble growing up.”
“There is no way you can look at these mitigating circumstances and believe for one second that they outweigh the aggravating circumstances and that this person’s life is more important,” he added.
Cruz will be sentenced next month.
“I have a son with special needs. I have a son who checked all of those boxes or many of those boxes that the shooter did too. And you know what? My son is not a murderer. My son is the sweetest person you could ever meet,’ Ms Hixon told the press.
“He had the best upbringing his mother could give them, but even if she didn’t, how does that trump cruel, heinous plans? He doesn’t. It just doesn’t. I don’t care who you are,” he added. “There is no way you can look at these mitigating circumstances and believe for one second that they outweigh the aggravating circumstances and that this person’s life is more important. And more precious than the lives of the 17 that were taken. And all the other people who lived that trauma every day.”
Many of those injured by Cruz when he opened fire took the witness stand to describe the horror of that day, but in the final phase of the prosecution’s case, the court heard victim impact statements from family members of those who died that day.
In one of many heartbreaking moments, Corey, son of Chris Hixon – the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach who died trying to save students – appeared alongside his mother to address the jury about his father.
After being asked who his father was, Corey, who has special needs, leaned shyly towards his mother when asked what he would like to tell the jury about his dad.
Debbie Hixon reassured her son and tearfully said aloud: “I miss him,” before hugging his mother.
Asked to tell the jury if he had another donut story, with whispered encouragement from his mother, he said: “Every Saturday we ran to Dunkin’ Donuts and back.”
“I try to explain to people when they say ‘how are you doing in the grieving process?’ that I don’t think – until we get to the other side of the trial – any of us have reached the real beginning of the grieving process,” Ms Hixon said. The independent before the sentencing hearing begins. “We live it every day. It’s a movie that runs through my head all the time. I don’t even know if we’ll get closure at the end of it, but it’s just been a constant wait as we know we’re going to have to see him in court and see him on TV. So I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s starting – I’m not happy, but we can’t get to the end until it starts.”
For Debbie and her two sons, “everything changed” the day her husband and their father were killed.
“Everything changes when that happens,” he said.
“For me, personally, I’ve spent more than half of my life with Chris being my life. I talk to him every day. I do my best and sometimes that’s better than others.”
Oliver O’Connell and Rachel Sharp contributed reporting.