BY LINDA TRISCHITTA
AND TONYA ALANEZ
FORT LAUDERDALE – The lovingly placed tributes to those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High were about to be archived and memorialized by the city of Parkland when vandals struck.
Deputies found in the back seat of a car late Sunday night (March 25) an assortment of teddy bears, plaques, pinwheels and other tokens of remembrance stolen from the fence along the school grounds.
Witnesses told police they saw Michael Shawn Kennedy, of Hollywood, and Kara M. O’Neil, of Fulton, N.Y., pilfering cherished items from the campus memorial, created in the aftermath of the shooting that killed 17 students and staffers and injured 17 others on Feb. 14.
“I’m kind of speechless,” said Sari Kaufman, a 15-year-old sophomore who shared classes with shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff, 14. “I know that memorial has helped us all cope.”
“That whole monument is just to honor (those who died),” she said. “It’s kind of like stealing from them, their families and our whole community.”
A felony offense
Kennedy, 37, and O’Neil, 40, who were arrested on suspicion of removing or disfiguring a tomb or a monument, a felony offense, are now behind bars at the Broward Main Jail.
“The subjects had no permission or authority to remove items and damage the monument for the deceased,” arrest reports said. “The subjects were at the monument at an unreasonable hour and maliciously intended to damage the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School monument.”
A committee of volunteers in March spent a day and a half disassembling a second memorial at nearby Pine Trails Park. They gathered withered flowers, votive candles, handwritten notes, crucifixes and Stars of David.
They had salvaged that memorial first to clear the park for the massive crowd that gathered there March 23 to protest gun violence, in unison with rallies across the nation and in Washington, D.C. The taking down of the memorial along the school’s fence was to begin in the days after the march.
After Saturday’s march in Parkland, the memorial along the park fence was further adorned with marchers’ hand-made signs.
“They gently placed the signs there,” said Michael Udine, the Broward County Commissioner who serves Parkland. “People left their signs there as a tribute to the victims.”
The thefts allegedly took place just after 10 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s completely disgusting,” Udine said. “It’s sickening to me, especially in light of the fact that everybody has tried to treat every aspect of this with so much dignity and respect.”
Read the law
Kennedy was first to appear in Monday afternoon bond court. He has served time in state prison for prior convictions for delivering OxyContin, burglary and assault on a law enforcement officer, according to prosecutor Eric Linder. Judge Kim Theresa Mollica ordered a $1,000 bond.
Kennedy, who is unemployed, spoke on his own behalf, telling Mollica, “I feel the charging document has insufficient facia elements … it is neither a tomb nor a monument.”
Mollica looked up the state statute and disagreed with Kennedy, saying the law also protected a memorial for the dead or burial artifacts.