'Forever in our hearts': Remembering Parkland 3 years after shooting




  • In Business
  • 2021-02-15 01:11:00Z
  • By South Florida Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The world lost 17 souls on Valentine's Day 2018 when a lone gunman roamed the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, firing round after round from an AR-15 rifle until 14 students and three faculty members lay dead.

On Sunday, the third anniversary of the massacre, the Parkland community mourned the tragic loss - and the world mourned with them.

Communities across South Florida gathered to remember the victims with candlelight vigils, moments of silence and memorial walls filled with words of hope and healing.

In Fort Lauderdale, more than 200 people joined together at Esplanade Park for a memorial ceremony held to honor the victims.

Dozens of notes hung from a memorial wall, sharing sentiments of love and healing:

"You will be forever in our hearts."

"Remember God only picks beautiful flowers from his garden."

"Really hard to realize that you are not here with us anymore. I promise to carry on your beliefs, actions and goals. You will be missed forever."

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen asked all present to never forget those lost that day. He then read the names of the 17 victims to the silent crowd: Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alexander Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; and Peter Wang, 15.

Tony Montalto, Gina's father, told the crowd his daughter was a kind spirit with a smile that would light up the entire room.

"It feels like just yesterday that I hugged her and sent her on her way with chocolate in her bag." he said. "My wife and I never imagined it would be the last time we'd see her."

In Coral Springs, the Eagles' Haven Wellness Center released 17 white doves in a special ceremony honoring the 17 lives lost.

At 2:21 p.m., the crowd stood in silence for six minutes - the length of the Parkland gunman's shooting spree. The time of 2:21 p.m. was chosen because that's when the shooting started.

In Parkland, spiritual leaders planned to lead an evening of communal healing and hope at Pine Trails Park, not far from Stoneman Douglas. A short video was planned along with a candle-lighting ceremony.

In Fort Lauderdale, Mayor Dean Trantalis spoke of the importance of remembering the 17 souls lost "that terrible day" but also of the need for action in putting a stop to school shootings so kids can go to class without fear.

"It's important to change our gun laws in the U.S., focus on mental health and point out trouble before tragedy occurs," he said. "We must restrict the use and sale of weapons and spend more time healing those who are troubled."

Since the shooting, Parkland students organized marches and rallies around the country - including a March For Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C. - calling for a change in the nation's gun laws.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden put out a statement saying he's heard that call for change and is now calling on Congress to embrace gun reform, including a ban on assault weapons and requiring background checks on all gun sales.

"This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call," Biden's statement said. "We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer ... We owe it to all those we've lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change. The time to act is now."

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, the Democrat whose district includes Parkland, said not a single day has gone by that he hasn't thought of the 17 lives lost in the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas.

"The MSD flag hanging on my office wall and the list of names I keep in my wallet are my daily reminder of the individuals we lost on that day," he said. "Together as a community, and on our own in our own way, we have grieved for each of them and will strive to keep alive the memory of who they were - their hobbies, their passions, their character."

The healing never truly ends but rather evolves, Deutch said.

"We cannot fully understand the pain felt on this day by the survivors and families of the victims," he said. "But we must still uphold our responsibility as members of this community to remember those who died three years ago, to celebrate the lives they lived, and to offer our support to anyone struggling on this day."

Pembroke Pines resident Kaylee Hillyer, a 19-year-old freshman at Nova Southeastern University, left a message of hope on the memorial wall at the Fort Lauderdale event.

"We can't bring them back, but it feels good to honor them," she said of the 17 victims.

Hillyer was a sophomore at a Hollywood high school when she got a news alert about the Parkland shooting. After that, she was so scared of a copycat shooting, she was afraid to go back to school.

"We need to make a change so we can feel safe in our schools," she said. "They are supposed to be our sanctuaries."

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