Wearing the same suit he wore to their last father-daughter dance, the shattered parent of a Parkland school massacre victim said Wednesday that there are times when he finds it difficult to go on.
Testifying at the sentencing trial of killer Nikolas Cruz, Anthony Montalto told jurors that the loss of his daughter, Gina, 14, continues to suffocate him in pain.
“Life without Gina is nearly unbearable,” he said as tearful spectators looked on in the gallery.
The teen was among the 14 students and three staffers gunned down in 2018 by Cruz with an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in one of the worst mass shootings in the nation’s history.
“The pain I feel every day since she was murdered is unimaginable,” Montalto said. “My daughter was always trying to make things better for others.”
The father tearfully described his daughter’s attributes and accomplishments, recalling the heroic time when she saved a toddler from drowning despite only being 10 years old at the time.
Montalto said his daughter noticed a 2-year-old boy struggling to stay afloat in a pool while their family was on a vacation.
She rushed over and hoisted the toddler above the water line as his parents rushed over.
Moved by Montalto’s act, the boy’s thankful mother bought her a small gift as a token of her appreciation.
“Gina proudly displayed her turtle gift in her room to this day,” her father said before choking back tears.
“She was kind, compassionate and caring. those are just a few of the qualities that made her so special,” he said.
The straight-A student’s death has also deeply traumatized her younger brother, Anthony, who struggles to make sense of her absence, according to their father.
“He and Gina were best buddies,” Montalto said, again struggling to speak. “Playing together and filling our house with laughter. Now there is a deafening silence. Broken only by the deep sighs and soft sobbing that accompany what used to be happy memories of our children playing.”
Max Schachter, father of 14-year-old victim Alex Schachter, told the court that the loss of his son — who was killed sitting at his desk at just — has left him in pieces.
“Our family is broken,” he said. “There is this constant emptiness. I feel I can’t truly be happy. If I smile, I know that behind that smile there is the sharp realization that I will always be sad and miserable because Alex isn’t here.”
When preparing his eulogy after his death, the father said he went through Alex’s belongings and found a poem he wrote for an English class. He read it for the jury Wednesday.
“It might be hard to breathe at times,” the poem read. “But hold on tight and don’t let go. It might be too much at times, the twists at times, but get back up and eventually it all comes to a stop and you won’t know when or how.”