‘I had a bad gut feeling.’ Victim's brother describes encounter with Parkland gunman after shooting

Editor’s note: Daily coverage of the Parkland trial is being provided to all readers as a public service.

For three days, survivors of the Parkland mass shooting provided graphic witness accounts of the chaos and uncertainty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Students and teachers displayed their scars and braces, their firsthand accounts of the murders, their confusion at whether the alarm that blared that Wednesday afternoon signified a drill or a real threat.

But on Thursday, the fourth day of the trial, the jury was offered something else: A look at the confessed gunman and his composure after he fled.

Surveillance videos shared in the courtroom showed Nikolas Cruz ordering an ICEE at a Subway inside a Coral Springs Walmart and slipping into a booth at a nearby McDonald’s.

At Subway, Cruz didn’t appear in a hurry. He tapped his fingers against a counter while he waited for a cherry-and-blue raspberry swirled drink. He often glanced over to his right, but otherwise seemed to be an ordinary patron.

He then headed to McDonald’s, where he tried to catch a ride with John Wilford, younger brother of then 17-year-old shooting victim Madeleine Wilford.

John Wilford was in a study hall when police evacuated the class. “Everybody was kind of panicked; we didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

He called his mother, and asked her to pick him up at the nearby McDonald’s. Video played in the courtroom on Thursday shows him sliding into a booth, fidgeting and repeatedly dialing his cellphone.

“I tried to get hold of my sister, but she wasn’t picking up,” Wilford testified.

Moments later, Cruz sat down across from him in the booth.

“Nik Cruz came and sat down next to me. I didn’t think much of it; I was just panicked,” Wilford said, explaining he had never seen Cruz before.

“I saw him sit down. I was telling him this is all chaotic, all the helicopters and squad cars, and said ‘What do you think it could be?’” Wilford said, saying Cruz just sat with his head down. “I was doing most of the talking.”

When Wilford started to leave, Cruz followed.

“He asked me for a ride; he was pretty insistent on it,” Wilford said. “I was just trying to get home. My sister wasn’t answering her phone. I had a bad gut feeling.”

Earlier on Thursday, Benjamin Wikander, who was a senior at Stoneman Douglas at the time of the shooting, said he heard “a bunch of loud bangs” in the hallway about 20 minutes before his class began. Wikander and his classmates ran into Ronit Reoven’s advanced placement psychology classroom for safety.

”Everyone kind of ran over to the corner of the classroom,” Wikander said. “And then, I don’t remember exactly how long [afterward], but eventually 10 shots came through the window of our classroom.”

Samantha Mayor, also in Reoven’s class, sat behind Wikander. Mayor was shot in the knee and had her kneecap shattered.

Wikander heard and saw the bullets whizz by, but he didn’t process the feeling of his own wound until he became unable to use his right arm.

”I felt like I was lifting my right arm totally up like this,” Wikander told the courtroom on Thursday morning, raising his arm upright to demonstrate. “When I saw that it was just laying on the side of me, but it completely felt like I was lifting it, that’s when I guess I realized that something was wrong.”

Reoven applied a makeshift tourniquet to Wikander’s arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Wikander was later carried out of classroom 1213 by law enforcement and given a real tourniquet. Still, he sustained radial nerve damage and wears a brace four years later.

Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. The trial is to determine his sentence, life in prison or death by execution. Jury selection began in April, and the trial is expected to end in October.

Testimony will resume on Friday.

Staff writer Rafael Olmeda contributed to this report.