‘February 14th will never be the same’

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South Florida marks third anniversary of Parkland shooting

People bow their heads during a memorial ceremony on Feb. 14 honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy.

JOHN MCCALL/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL/TNS

BY SUSANNAH BRYAN AND AUSTEN ERBLAT
SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL/TNS

PARKLAND – 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 Feb. 14, 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.

Hundreds of people attended a community commemoration event at Parkland’s Pine Trails Park on the evening of Feb. 14. A board with the names and photos of each victim lined one end of the field as mournful attendees, many of whom wore “MSD Strong” shirts, wrote notes.

Interfaith tribute

A commemoration from Parkland-area churches, synagogues and mosques was followed by a video memorial for the victims. Therapy dogs comforted children and adults at the event.

Monsignor Michael A. Souckar, pastor of Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Coral Springs,
asked for mercy and justice for the Parkland community.

Imam Sultan Mohammed, of the Islamic Foundation of South Florida, offered condolences to the families of victims, acknowledging that it doesn’t get easier each year.

“You’re an inspiration for us all,” he said. “You’re an inspiration for this entire community to come together.”

A brief video honored victims and showed photos of them. “February 14th will never be the same,” the video’s narrator said, in part. “Though their time was short, the world is better for having them here.”

Brought back memories

Fabiola Pepe, after leaving a note next to each victim’s photo, said the event was sad but also beautiful.

“The community is still behind each other,” she said. “There were students here that you could see crying. You can still see them. It feels like the very first day after it happened.”

Stoneman Douglas High School parent Dana Rubenstein, of Coral Springs, left a note under each victim’s name. She said she came to show support for victims’ families and the entire community.

“It’s something that also needs to be remembered, not just on this day, but every day,” she said. “I thought today’s event was very well done. They really had that nice balance of remembering the victims but also being very beautiful and showing their spirit.”

The event brought back memories from the day of the shooting, Rubenstein said. It served as an unneeded reminder to love and care for one another. She cited faith leaders that spoke earlier, saying we need to “(appreciate) each and every day because you never know when it will be your last.”

Saying their names

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

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.”

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.

Biden statement

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.”

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 Feb. 14, 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.

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