The gunman who killed 14 pupils and three staff members at a Parkland, Florida, secondary school in 2018 pleaded guilty to murder on Wednesday and told his victims' loved ones that he was “very sorry” for what he had done.
Nikolas Cruz, 23, entered his pleas in a courtroom hearing attended by a dozen relatives of the victims after answering questions from Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency.
As several parents shook their heads, Cruz apologised for his actions, saying, “I'm very sorry for what I did … I can't live with myself sometimes.”
Several parents and other relatives of victims broke down in tears while listening to the court proceedings via a Zoom call.
Cruz was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the February 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A sentencing trial will determine if he will receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Ms Scherer plans to begin screening jurors next month in hopes evidence can begin to be given in January. Given the case's notoriety, she plans to screen thousands of prospective jurors.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, died in the shooting, said he visited her grave this week to ask her for the strength to make it through Wednesday's hearing.
“She was the toughest, wisest person I ever knew,” he said.
“My daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter despised bullies and would put herself in the middle of someone being bullied to make it stop.”
On Monday, families affected by the Parkland school massacre reached a $25 million settlement with the Broward County school district in a lawsuit that accused it of negligence.
David Brill, the families' lawyer, confirmed that 52 families will be involved in the settlement.
“This settlement is fair and remarkable given the circumstances,” Mr Brill said.
Still, he said, it is “nowhere near enough money to compensate the victims. Indeed, there isn’t enough money in existence to do that".
Following Cruz's guilty pleas, Broward State Attorney Mike Satz recounted the details of the murders.
Cruz killed 14 pupils and three staff members on Valentine's Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-storey building at Stoneman Douglas, investigators said.
They said he shot victims in the hallways and in classrooms with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
The gunman had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behaviour that dated back to preschool.
The shootings caused some pupils to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally.
Agencies contributed to this report