Community still grieves 2 years after Parkland shooting, join together to make schools safer
A moment of silence across Florida honoring the 17 victims who died in Parkland two years ago today.
At 2:21 p.m. on Valentine’s Day 2018, surveillance video captured confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz opening fire into classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Friday, the community is paying their respects at a memorial there as survivors and families try to heal.
In a park less than 10 minutes away from the high school, people came to be part of acts of service and love to honor those 17 victims.
Everyone we spoke to was still in disbelief, not only that it happened, but that somehow it’s been two years.
Wendy Behrend is the school crossing guard for MSDHS. She said she was standing out by the school’s sign when it happened.
“We were standing right there, talking, waiting for the kids to come out and this time they didn’t come out and we heard the shots,” she said. “Those sounds, I keep hearing them in my head and they brought out kids who were bleeding and there was a triage set up right here.”
“I can’t fathom the feelings that people went through that, you know, two years later and it’s still a fresh thing in people’s minds,” said Hailey Jacobsen, a student at MSDHS.
Emma Velez, also a student at the high school, said her science teacher was there and was talking about how scary it was.
“When they had us for the moment of silence, I just, I couldn’t handle it,” she said. “I think that was the most depressing part of the day, the moment of silence,” Jacobsen said.
“I come back because I love the children, I do it for them. They have my heart,” Behrend said. “It’s about protecting our children and keeping them safe.”
It’s a difficult day, of course, for the families of those 17 people shot and killed.
A bond forged by grief
We spoke with two dads about the anniversary and how they’re coping with the extraordinary loss.
Two years ago, Tom Hoyer and Tony Montalto were strangers. But if you ask them now…
“Oh yeah, a band of brothers. We’re linked forever,” Hoyer said.
The two share a bond forged by grief.
His son, Luke, and Montalto’s daughter, Gina, were both killed in the shooting.
Hoyer says he doesn’t allow himself to think of it often. “There’s moments from that day…I remember when I got the call at work from my wife telling me that there’s a shooting at the school and she couldn’t get a hold of Luke,” he said.
Montalto admits each day of the past two years, he’s focused on actively managing the pain of losing his little girl.
“Seems just like yesterday that we sent her to school with some Valentine’s chocolates and a hug and we never imagined that that would be the last time that our family would be complete, would be happy,” he said.
For these two dads, two years later, they hope you don’t forget the 17.
“I’m still amazed by what quality individuals they were, from the kids who had all these bright futures, to the coaches who did all these extra things,” Montalto said. “It’s really sad that we lost these 17 fantastic people…including my Gina, of course, the one we miss the most.”
It’s a heartbreak they hope no other parent has to feel.
They’ve channeled their grief into action and helped form the group, Stand with Parkland.
“Securing the school campus, better mental health screening and support programs, and finally, if you choose to own one, responsible firearms ownership. All three of those things failed us on that terrible day,” Montalto said.
On Monday, they traveled to Washington, D.C. to support their cause.
“We rolled out something called SchoolSafety.gov, which is the school safety clearinghouse. It’s a user-friendly tool which school administrators can use to try and figure out how they can make their schools safer,” Hoyer explained.
The grief doesn’t go away, but it’s given these two dads a voice and a reason to make sure we never forget.
Do you think she’s proud of you, we asked Montalto of his late daughter. “I would hope so,” he said holding back tears. “But, it’s not her job to be proud of me. It was my job, as a dad, to be proud of her and I was very proud of her and I’m very proud of my son as he works through this with my wife and I.”
Many tears were shed Friday, but we also witnessed how this community has come together and they will never forget.