EPHRATA, Wash. --- Family and friends of the victims killed in a school shooting in Moses Lake more than 20 years ago had to testify about that fateful day on Wednesday.
Barry Loukaitis shot and killed two classmates and a teacher at Frontier Middle School on Feb. 2, 1996.
At the time, he was sentenced to two life sentences and another 205 years without the possibility of parole. Loukaitis will be back in court for a re-sentencing hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled teenagers younger than 16 cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Loukaitis was 14-years-old when he was given two life sentences so under the new ruling he had to go back before a judge to be re-sentenced.
Many victims spoke Wednesday morning about the shooting that left Arnie Fritz, Manuel Vela and teacher Leona Caires dead.
The mother of Manuel Vela said life could not prepare her for what happened when her son was murdered. She said her whole world became dark and her whole family was forever broken.
Many of the people in the courtroom were moved to tears by her words.
“We didn’t get to see how his life played out,” said the brother of one of the murdered students. “There were supposed to be three brothers not two. I was never able to meet my brother.”
He said his family felt cheated by the tragedy.
A friend of one of the victims who had been in the next room said he still remembered the blood in the hallway as they walked single file to the exit.
“Class was normal as usual until that first shot,” recalled Derek Martinez on the stand. “We all lost our innocence that day.”
Martinez said he still has flashbacks of what happened.
“Imagine the anxiety of sending your kids back to Frontier Middle School,” he said. Martinez said he always tells his four sons to be aware of their surroundings.
“Does he deserve forgiveness? Probably so. Does he deserve freedom? Absolutely not,” Martinez said.
The mother of Arnie Fritz took the stand next, and spoke about the hours surrounding his death. She said she heard on the radio one child was dead and another rhad been shot in the arm as she was driving to the school.
She said her son would have walked home, so she drove all the routes he would have taken and could not find him.
When she arrived at the hospital, she found her family gathered there and saw he son on a stretcher.
She said her son was dead, but when she held his hand, she did not realize it was cold until someone else held her other hand.
“It took a long time before the images and experiences of that two hour period weren’t there, flashing before my eyes,” she recalled.
She said she visited Loukaitis about five years ago, and believes his apology.
Loukaitis filed a handwritten letter in court last week, apologizing for his actions and agreeing not to fight the re-sentencing.
“I’ve never apologized for what I’ve done,” Loukaitis wrote in the letter. “I didn’t because I feared that trying to apologize after doing something so terrible would only add insult to injury. If that feeling was wrong, I’m sorry for not speaking before. I’m sorry for denying people what they deserve to hear.”
Arnie's mother said she told Loukaitis he should not feel guilty for any joy he can feel in his life when she visited him, and she still meant that.
Loukaitis appeared to be crying as she spoke.
Jon Lane, teacher who wrestled gun from Loukaitis is now speaking: "Nobody can understand unless they were there."— Lindsay Nadrich (@KREMLindsay) April 19, 2017
The court took a break until 1:30 p.m. then the defense and Loukaitis spoke. Loukaitis apologized and for the first time tried to answer the question of why saying it was because he was weak and angry.
"I am sorry for what I did. I know it doesn't make anything better. It doesn't help, It doesn't replace what has been taken from you and you should have it back, everything, you should have your loved ones back, you should have all the experiences that you wanted to have back. You should have your lives back," said Loukaitis.
Loukaitis also said, "I won't ask to be out of prison. I don't deserve to be out of prison."
Judge Cooper followed the prosecution's recommendation of 189 years. Loukaitis will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Although it was difficult to re-open wounds at the hearing, the judge hopes this will bring some closure.