His attorneys announced Friday that the gunman who shot and killed 14 students and three school staff members at Parkland’s high school in Florida will plead guilty. This brings closure to a community in South Florida more than three decades after an attack that ignited a national movement for gun control.

A guilty plea would open up a penalty phase in which Nikolas Cruz (23 years old) would fight against the death penalty and hope for life without parole.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer was informed Wednesday by Cruz’s attorneys that he would plead guilty to 17 counts first-degree murder in connection with the February 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. There will be no conditions to the pleas and the prosecution still intends to seek death penalty. The jury will decide, but the trial has not been set.

Cruz will also plead guilty 17 counts of attempted murder. Cruz was absent at the initial hearing but he later appeared in the Broward County courtroom to plead guilty for attacking a guard nine months after the shooting.

The pandemic has caused delays in the trial and there have been arguments between defense and prosecution over which evidence and testimony should be presented to jurors. The delay was criticized by some families of victims, but the head of the group that formed it expressed relief at the fact that the case seems to be closer to resolution.

Tony Montalto, Stand With Parkland, stated that “We just hope the systems gives him justice.” Gina, his 14-year old daughter, was killed in the shooting.

Parkland student activists founded March for Our Lives in the wake of the shooting. This group rallied thousands of people across the country for stricter gun laws, including a national televised march through Washington, D.C. Parents made passionate pleas for accountability for gun violence prevention policies.

Cruz and his lawyers unexpectedly decided to plead guilty. The next few months would see the start of jury selection. Preparations were already underway. For the attack on Broward County jail guard, he was set to stand trial.

Cruz and his lawyers had offered to plead guilty for a life sentence in exchange, but the prosecutors repeatedly rejected this offer, stating that the case deserved death.

Cruz’s rampage destroyed Parkland’s veneer of safety, a middle-class community just outside Fort Lauderdale that is free from crime and surrounded by few criminals. Stoneman Douglas, which has 3,200 students and is one of the best-ranked public schools in the State, is its educational crown jewel.

Cruz was a troubled, long-time resident. Broward sheriff’s officers were called frequently to Cruz’s home in an upscale area where he lived with his widowed mother, and younger brother. However, they claimed that nothing had been reported that could have led them to arrest him. The shooting was investigated by a state commission.

Cruz alternated between troubled students and traditional schools.

Stoneman Douglas was his first school. He started in 10th grade. But he had problems. At one point, he was forbidden from carrying a backpack because he might be carrying a weapon. He was still allowed to join the school’s rifle squad.

After numerous instances of unusual behavior and at most one fight, he was expelled from the school about a year prior to the attack. He started posting videos online where he threatened violence at school. He bought the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that he would use for the shooting at this point.

Cruz was four months away from the shooting when Cruz’s mother, Cruz, died from pneumonia in 2017. He began to stay with friends and took his 10 guns with them.

A month before the shooting, someone called the FBI to alert agents that he was worried about his mental state. Cruz was never contacted or investigated and the information was not forwarded to South Florida’s office.

Another acquaintance called Broward Sheriff’s Office to issue a similar warning. However, when Cruz learned that Cruz was living with a friend in Palm Beach County, he advised the caller not to contact the sheriff’s department.

Cruz started making videos in the weeks leading up to the shooting claiming he would be the “next school gunner of 2018”.

It was just minutes before the end school day, and the shooting took place on Valentine’s Day. Many students were wearing red and had already exchanged gifts.

Cruz, then 19, arrived on campus in an Uber and assembled his rifle inside a bathroom. He then lit a fire on staff and students, setting off the alarm with the smoke from the rifle.

Scot Peterson (the school’s resource officer and sheriff’s deputy) heard the shots outside the building. He pulled his gun and concealed behind a wall and column, as video shows. Although he claimed he didn’t know where the shots were coming, he told investigators that he did. However, they confirmed that his radio transmissions prove he knew.

Peterson was charged with felony neglect of children for allegedly failing students to be protected and perjury for lying to investigators. Peterson pleaded not guilty, and resigned shortly before he was fired.

Cruz dropped his gun and fled. He merged with his victims when police arrived to storm the building. About an hour later, he was found walking through a residential area. He confessed to the detectives later that night.

State investigations found security flaws at Stoneman Douglas and schools throughout the state. A state law was passed in response to the shooting that mandates all public schools in Florida to have an armed guard present during classes.