Devastated parents of an Irish schoolgirl murdered in a 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre in Florida have given testimony at her alleged killer’s trial.
Some 17 tragic victims, including Cara Loughran (14) were gunned down four years ago on February 14 by Nikolas Cruz, then aged 19, claim US prosecutors.
Cara’s mum Denise and dad Damian Loughran told the jury that the teenager was a straight-A student who loved Irish dancing.
They revealed in their victim impact statements that Cara was planning to return to Ireland for a holiday that summer to see family in Antrim.
Family friend Isabel Dalu said in court on the heartbroken parents’ behalf: “Losing Cara has left a crushing absence in their lives.”
Isabel revealed Cara’s birthday was a week later and she wanted to get her driving learner’s permit and to dance in the St Patrick’s Day parade the following month.
She added: “Cara dreamed of her first date, her first kiss and falling in love.
“She dreamed of going to homecoming and prom, she dreamed of graduating at the top of her class with all of her loved ones watching.
“But Cara didn’t make it to any of these milestones.”
Cara’s brother Liam, who is now 21, witnessed the attack and left the school shortly after the shootings, which killed 14 pupils and three teachers and wounded another 17.
Their father Damian emigrated from Toomebridge in Antrim 15 years ago.
Cruz has been charged at Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale with killing all 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland near Miami.
The court heard that the former Parkland student had been expelled a year earlier.
He returned in an Uber car to his old school, walked into classrooms with a AR-15 style rifle and fired indiscriminately into several rooms.
Jurors also heard that he excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship programme thanks to a grant from America’s National Rifle Association Foundation.
Young student Christopher McKenna, who was on a bathroom break from class, saw the rifleman and tried to raise the alarm.
But video recordings show the shooter spraying rounds of bullets on multiple floors of the building, and killing some victims at point-blank range, before trying to escape by using fleeing students as cover.
Evidence that he was plotting to carry out the massacre for at least seven months was alleged during the trial.
Cruz, now 23, pleaded guilty last October to 17 counts of first-degree murder in one of the America’s deadliest school shooting massacres.
He said at the time: “I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day.
“If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others.”
Prosecutors asked for the death penalty in the case while defence lawyers have pushed for life in prison without parole.
The jury was yesterday to visit the school, which has been preserved as a crime scene, to retrace the steps of confessed gunman Cruz.
Prosecutor Jeff Marcus said: “This is the crime scene that he chose.”
After the site visit, jurors will return to court for more testimony and victim impact statements and the school campus is due to re-open on August 16.
Paddy and Ellie Loughran, the broken-hearted grandparents of Cara, who was also known as Cara Marie, are aged in their 70s.
They are originally from Belfast but moved to the Meadows estate in Toome some years ago.
Local parish priest Fr Patrick McWilliams knows them from Mass at St Oliver Plunkett Church and said at the time: “They are just broken-hearted.”
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