By: Mayor Christine Hunschofsky
On February 14, 2018, our community was changed forever. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when we received word that there was some kind of shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. We all remember where we were when we learned that what occurred was, in fact, a mass shooting that took the lives of Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup and Peter Wang. One only needs to look back at texts, emails, phone messages and social media posts from that day to be reminded of the confusion, the shock, the uncertainty and the fear that consumed us and that, to this day, remains with so many.
Fear continued to escalate as parents frantically searched for their children, rumors of those murdered surfaced, the media frenzy descended on our city and images of our bedroom community and people that we know were now making national and international news. For those that were not there, the worst moments were when reality hit us in the form of receiving phone calls from friends who had their loved ones taken or injured—or walking into the Marriott hotel and seeing so many people we knew who were waiting to hear about the fate of their then-missing family members. We had always heard acts of evil like this could happen anywhere, and happen all too frequently—but now it happened here… in Parkland.
The vigil held at Pine Trails Park the following night showed our community the outpouring of support we had from all around the county, the state, the country and the world. Then the following day, the first of 17 funerals took place. Thousands of people from all over attended the funerals to express their condolences and show their support and love. We saw so many people we knew. We cried together, hugged one another and wondered how any of this could be happening. How could these families get through this, how could the community get through this, how long would it be before people would forget about us, just like after every other mass shooting, and move on?
It took some time before the names of those that were injured were released – Ashley Baez, Anthony Borges, Isabel Chequer, Justin Colton, Alexander Dworet, Samantha Fuentes, Samantha Grady, Marian Kabachenko, Kyle Laman, Stacey Lippel, Kheshava Managapuram, Samantha Mayor, Daniele Menescal, William Olson, Genesis Valentin, Benjamin Wikander and Madeleine Wilford. And beyond the injured, we saw from talking with the families of those that were taken, the families of the injured, and everyone who was at MSD that day, there would be both incredible physical injuries and scars as well as emotional and traumatic scars that everyone would carry from February 14th forward.
In the aftermath we had marches, walk outs and walk ups. We had new and reinvigorated activists of all ages on many different issues: family members, students, parents, neighbors, friends and many who had previously given up hope were participating in trying to make change. Changes were made to Florida law and to laws in other states. Investigations were underway, reports were published and elections were happening.
Throughout all the “loud” things that were going on, we also had many people just helping one another—local people, people who lived far away, friends, neighbors, loved ones and complete strangers. We were reminded of how precious and fleeting life can be. Parents hugged their children tighter and family members and friends said “I love you” more often. As we honor and remember those who were taken on February 14, we continue to work toward healing the community, looking out for one another, fixing the problems, improving the laws and making a difference in our world.
We cannot do this in one day or one year and we cannot do this alone. Our families, our students, our volunteers and our community have been tested and we are rising to the occasion. We will never forget and we will never stop working to try and make things better. Continue to stand with us, continue to remember us and continue to be there for one another as we navigate this new path forward.