Luke Hoyer’s parents, Tom and Gena Hoyer, wept and comforted each other as Dr. Terril Tops described their son’s death. Hoyer was the first victim of Nikolas Cruz’s murderous rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people and injured a further 17. 

Tops said the first bullet bit Luke’s jaw and neck, drowning his lungs with blood. Hoyer suffered a second gunshot wound that shattered part of his pelvis, but the first bullet was enough to kill Luke, said Tops. 

Cruz pleaded guilty to 34 counts of murder and attempted murder, setting up the ongoing sentencing trial. The months-long sentencing trial will force Tom and Hoyer to relive the pain of losing their beloved son. “I felt like I had to hear it, because it fills out the picture for me a little more,” Tom told The New York Times

Luke Hoyer’s parents believe Nicolas Cruz deserves the death penalty

Gena Hoyer’s last interaction with Luke was when she dropped him off at school on Valentine’s Day in 2018. She remembers him crossing the street in a hoodie partially covered by his backpack. 

After hearing that a shooting was happening at Luke’s school, Gena frantically texted Luke; he was likely dead by the time news of the shooting leaked. His parents’ search of the hospitals in the area yielded no fruit. 

Following a long wait in a hotel conference room, a police officer emerged to inform them about Luke’s fate. The officer didn’t need to speak to convey his message – a brief look at the officer’s sorrowful expression told Gena and Tom that Hoyer had passed away. 

Gena initially thought that a life sentence was enough for Nicolas Cruz. However, as investigators released more details about the murders, Luke’s parents started to see the death sentence as more appropriate for Cruz. 

The Hoyers believe that some murder convicts deserve the death penalty, including Nicolas Cruz. Nicolas’s meticulous planning of his shooting rampage, coupled with the multiple opportunities he had to stop, convinced Gena and Tom that he deserved death. “This guy killed 17 people,” Tom Hoyer said. “I think when he pulled that trigger, he gave up his right to humanity.”

Gena opines that Cuz killed too many people for his life to be spared. She attends the trial wearing Luke’s necklace, which they’d gifted him the Christmas before his passing. 

An obstacle to the death penalty is the mitigating factors to be presented by divorce attorneys. Unless the jury unanimously declares the death penalty appropriate, the victims will have to settle for life imprisonment. Tom told The New York Times that all he wants is fairness:

“And then suddenly, one day, one of your purposes is gone. In that void, we really thought about how to go on, and what justice meant to us. The truth is, I don’t know. I think, more than anything, I want fairness, if that makes sense.”

Tom and Gena Hoyer started a charity in Luke’s name to help foster children

Luke Hoyer's parents
Luke Hoyer’s parents, Gena and Tom | Photo by Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel

Tom and Gena Hoyer said that the concept of justice for them extended beyond securing the appropriate sentence for Cruz. “We couldn’t allow ourselves to think of justice only in terms of this person being held accountable for what he did,” Tom said. 

Shortly after Luke passed away, Tom and Gena established the Luke Hoyer Athletic Fund to pay for sports-related costs for local foster kids. Hoyer was interested in sports and planned to try out for the school’s football team. The fund’s website reads:

“Created in the memory of Luke Thomas Hoyer who was tragically killed in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. A fan of all sports, especially basketball and football, this fund allows his sweet, giving spirit to live on, helping children in times of need.”

The Hoyers also helped form Stand With Parkland, an advocacy group representing some victims’ families. Gena and Tom grew up around guns but don’t own any. Stand With Parkland advocates for mental health screening, responsible gun ownership, and school safety reform. 

The group considers the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act a crucial step in reducing gun-related deaths.

Following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Tom said he felt physical pain thinking about the victims’ parents. On 24th May 2002, Salvador Ramos killed nineteen students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. 

Speaking outside the courtroom in Fort Lauderdale after a session of jury selection, an emotional Tom said:

“I know what those families had to endure sitting in a room waiting to hear that their child is lying in a school on a floor. It is heartbreaking, heartbreaking. I hope their journey through all of this is a lot faster than ours.”

The Hoyers’ focus is on raising their two children while honoring Luke’s memory

Gena and Tom have Luke’s grief-stricken siblings, a daughter and a son, to raise. “Like the other families, we have had to deal with so much grief for so long,” Gena said. The plan is to raise the kids while honoring Luke’s memory. Gena continued:

“What we want is to make sure Abby and Jake are OK and we are being good parents to them. I feel like our future needs to be focused on them and their lives, while always remembering and loving our Luke. I have to believe he would want that, too.”

At the moment, however, the family must deal with Cruz’s sentencing and the inevitable opening of still fresh wounds. Gena told The New York Times that physical pain sometimes accompanies her mental anguish.

She sometimes feels comfort in his mostly unaltered room and often dreams of herself telling Luke that she loves him.