By Jill Fox
In a private ceremony on Friday, the families of the victims of the February 14 school shooting, along with local officials, toured the new 1500 building on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus.
Although the group liked what they saw as far as safety, they were taken back by what they observed as they exited — nothing in the building paid tribute to the 17 who were lost on February 14, 2018.
“I’m genuinely overwhelmed with disappointment and heartbreak by the fact that there is nothing in the new 1500 building to memorialize those we lost,” said Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter, Alyssa, was killed in the school shooting.
“What surprised us was that there was already a plaque, but the plaque was just to honor the school board, the architects, and the general council, but that was surprising because we weren’t told about it,” said Tony Montalto, who lost his daughter, Gina, in the massacre.
Families of the victims were offended by the recognition of the school board, who they felt contributed to the lack of policies that kept their children safe.
On the interior walls of another building on campus, they did find framed pictures with inspirational words about life–one for each of the victims.
“It’s insulting to use some miscellaneous Homegoods pictures and put our loved ones names on them,” tweeted Max Schachter, who lost his son, Alex, in the shooting, “They don’t belong as a remembrance to a murder victim. It has no association to them– it only points out the sadness that they can’t do any of those things now.”
Broward County Schools released a statement but did not issue an apology or steps to rectify the situation.
“….So that we will always remember why the construction of the building was necessary, the hallway of the front office is lined with 17 framed quotes, each dedicated to one a victim with their name inscribed on the frame.”
The families were not pleased.
“We want there to be a remembrance so for generations of students to come they learn about our lost loved ones,” said Schachter, “Our loved ones were more than just the number 17 or symbols of 17 birds, balloons, rocks, or feathers.”
Montalto stressed that the families don’t really understand why they can’t work together with the school and the school board.
“There were 14 students and three staff members who were murdered. They don’t have a voice. So it falls to us, their parents and spouses who must speak out for them, to remind the world of who they were, of their hopes and dreams, and to honor them through both words and actions,” he said.
Montalto explained that they are not ungrateful for the school’s prior attempts, but the families of the victims have not been consulted on any of the current memorials, and nearly all of them reduce their murdered loved ones to mere symbols instead of remembering them as people.
From the 17 trees planted along Holmberg Road, an eagle painting in the school’s media center, an eagle sculpture across from the gymnasium, and a kindness rock project garden, to name a few, either some or all of the families were unaware of these tributes until recently.
“The victims’ families had no interaction with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Faculty Council until this week,” said Montalto, “Most of us had no idea such a body existed.”
In response to the plaque on the new building, the district stated that in every Broward County Public School building, there is a plaque like the one at MSD that identifies the School Board of Broward County and the project architect.
“Placement of an additional commemorative plaque is a decision made by the school community, including the school’s teachers, staff, and parents,” said BCPS.
On Tuesday morning, Schachter said the council met on Monday evening and informed him that they support an interim memorial honoring the victims. A newly formed committee will meet at the end of October to get started.
Montalto said, “We are hopeful that change will come with more talks, but we still are far apart, and actions speak louder than words.”
The statement by Broward County Schools concluded:
“It is unlikely that our school district will ever fully recover from the horrific tragedy at MSD, and we can only try to understand that for a parent who has lost a child, or any individual who has lost a spouse, a sibling or a parent, we will never be able to provide what the families need to fully heal.”
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- Jill Fox is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. She has worked on the public relations side as well as the television side of marketing for NBC Universal. A true Floridian, Fox grew up in Ormond Beach and now resides in Parkland with her husband, Brian and their two children, Madden, 11 and Randi, 7.
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