Parkland Strong: Moment Of Silence Marks One Year Since Tragedy

PARKLAND, FL Eighteen-year-old Victoria Gonzalez observed Thursday’s moment of silence at precisely 10:17 a.m. hugging friends outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and tending the memorial garden she started on Christmas Eve to honor the memory of the 17 victims of the Parkland tragedy, including her boyfriend, Joaquin Oliver.

“My best friend was killed,” she told Patch. “This is my garden. This is my project. There was no place to go so we created this on our own for people to reflect and remember.”

Her father, Capt. Anthony Gonzalez of the Coral Springs Parkland Fire Department stood nearby to mark the first anniversary of the horrific Valentine’s Day massacre that claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty members. He says he is proud of his daughter “beyond words” for what she was able to accomplish with volunteers, hard work, donations and tears.

“I was on duty that day and my daughter was in the school that day,” Anthony Gonzalez recalled, saying that Victoria is the last of his four daughters to attend the school. “I don’t know how I did it, how I was able to separate my job from my kid being in the school.”

He refers to the school shooting as the “worst call of my career,” and said his fellow first responders are still struggling to overcome their emotions.

“Part of what I tell people is to talk about it,” he explained. “You can’t do it alone. You need to reach out to people and not be afraid to reach out. Some people don’t want to, but it is helpful.”

Second-Floor Study Hall

Kyle DuMornay, now 16, found himself directly above the Parkland shooter in a second-floor study hall at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as shots methodically rang out from an AR-15 assault rifle last Valentine’s Day.

They still haunt him a year later even though the high school sophomore has done his best to move on from the horrific tragedy, even changing schools.

“Valentine’s Day already sucked. This is a better reason to hate it,” he confided in an interview with Patch.

DuMornay still grieves for the 17 who lost their lives, but particularly fellow athlete Alyssa Alhadeff, who played on the school’s soccer team.

“We weren’t close. We weren’t tight. I’m not going to lie, saying that we were,” he shared. “We barely even knew each other, but out of respect for her as being human and being a fellow athlete with amazing sportsmanship it’s going to be hard. Losing a teammate is very, very hard.”

The first anniversary of the tragedy was not only hard for DuMornay, but for some 3,000 other Parkland students and former students, who are haunted by a sense of shared grief for the victims, their friends and others who suffered unimaginable loss one year ago.

Alhadeff’s mother, Lori, shared her feelings in an emotional Valentine’s Day letter to her daughter on dearworld.org, which was formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Part of her remembrance says:

As I remember you, grief washes over me. But that grief emboldens me to fight for change.

I wish I could take all the bullets for you.
It’s been a year since I saw you.
You, in that black and white dress, those Converse on your feet, and that smile. I’ll never forget that smile.
It feels like yesterday.
I just want you back.

See Lori Alhadeff’s full letter and a video below.

Broward County Schools, which includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas, marked the anniversary with a “Day of Service and Love.”

The City of Parkland hosted an Interfaith ceremony Thursday night at Pine Trails Park while therapy dogs and counselors were available at various events throughout the day.

“Maverick,” a one-year old, Dogo Argentino was a big hit outside the Stoneman Douglas as students marveled over his sweet temperament and white fur covered in red lipstick kisses.

Parkland Touches Nation

While there is no question that this affluent community about 50 miles from Miami has been forever changed by the tragedy, Parkland has also sparked a movement of young people that has spread from the shores of Miami Beach to the towering skyline of Manhattan, over the corn fields of Iowa to the Colorado Rockies and chilly waters of Northern California.

Former Parkland student turned activist David Hogg quietly attended the moment of silence outside the school, but didn’t want to speak publicly on Thursday.

In Illinois, Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel told Patch that he directed each of his police officers to read the recently released Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission report on the events surrounding the school shooting.

“I want to openly discuss this important report with my entire staff,” he explained. “There are many lessons that can be learned from this incident that could be implemented into Riverside Police Department’s response to school-involved incidents.”

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered flags be flown at half staff at all local and state buildings, installations and grounds throughout the state to honor the victims.

#DearAlyssa, a love letter by Lori Alhadeff in partnership with dearworld.org

Lori Alhadeff Courtesy: Dear World

It’s Valentine’s Day. A day full of love, chocolates and flowers.

For me, it is more than that now. Last Valentine’s Day was the last time I saw you. You wore a black and white dress. Your long dark hair dangled. Your makeup looked just right. Of course, your white Converse sneakers protected your feet as you walked in to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Valentine’s Day is now about memories. Today, like all days, I remember.

I remember you weren’t looking forward to going to school that day. Like many 14-year-old girls, you wanted a Valentine and were disappointed that you didn’t have one. High school love is magic. I was 14 once and those butterflies had whirled inside of me too.

I wanted that for you.

I remember the golden gift bag I gave you that morning. It held a pair of diamond earrings to make you feel pretty, a chocolate bar to make you smile, and hair ties so you wouldn’t ask for mine.

I touched your ears, putting the stems of the earrings through your lobes. You said you were ready to go to school after that.

You opened the car door.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you, too,” you said.

Valentine’s Day. The last time I saw you alive.

****

A year has been a long time without you. So much has happened I want to tell you about.

I watch your brothers miss you terribly. They want you to know they miss fighting with you. They say thank you for convincing dad to get unlimited WiFi.

Dad fights for you every day. He’s your voice.

Grammy has honored you and became a school safety activist.

We got a dog! Her name is Roxy and she’s a soccer player, like you. She kicks the ball around the yard, but sometimes puts it in her mouth.

And your soccer team … wow, what a group. They wear your number eight on their sleeves and have starting using it sideways to honor you. Infinity.

Oh, and I found out about the time you jumped off a bridge down by the beach?!

Alyssa, you jumped off a bridge?!

****

There are things I do in your memory that I never thought I could or would ever do.

See, a mother’s protective instincts don’t leave when we lose the ones we love. I talk to other moms who have lost children. We talk about you. We talk about their kids. But when we look into each other’s eyes, we see it.

A fire.

I ran for the school board. I won! I screamed on national TV — words of rage directed at the president! I started a non-profit called Make Our Schools Safe and there is a law named after you in New Jersey — Alyssa’s Law.

****

Mothers know.

Intuition prevails.

Mine came as soon as someone told me there’d been a shooting at school.

I knew you were gone.

Rabbi Gutnick said, “Have faith, Lori.” I said, “No, you must start planning now.”

You were with me.

I knew it.

We lost 14 students and three teachers. 17 beautiful people we, as a community, needed to bury. You were the first.

The next day, Rabbi Gutnick presided and hundreds of people came from all over the country.

If you remember from Bat Mitzvah classes, shivas last seven days when a loved one dies. In those seven days, I got so many hugs from people who loved you. From family.

From people I’d never met. So many that I injured my neck. People, in a sense, loved me until it hurt.

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****

It’s Valentine’s Day.

As I remember you, grief washes over me. But that grief emboldens me to fight for change.

I wish I could take all the bullets for you.

It’s been a year since I saw you.

You, in that black and white dress, those Converse on your feet, and that smile. I’ll never forget that smile.

It feels like yesterday.

I just want you back.

Love forever,
Mom

Watch below as Lori Alhadeff discusses her slain daughter courtesy dearworld.org:

Click here to Donate to Make Our Schools Safe in Alyssa’s honor.


Day Of Service And Love

In nearby Coral Springs, a 35-foot-temple was unveiled to serve as an “object of great beauty built out of tremendous loss.”

Artist David Best worked with victims, grieving families, community members and first responders to create the temporary structure located at 9551 West Sample Road. It will be open to the public through mid May.

“The Temple is not meant to be a memorial or permanent structure, but rather a place for the community to leave their pain,” Coral Springs officials explained. “In past work with grieving parents, students and first responders, the artist has found that the process and resulting Temple helps people rebuild hope and release grief.”

The Temple will be burned in a ceremonial fire tentatively planned for mid May. “The burning will be a closing ritual, a cathartic experience that allows people to let go of difficult emotions and make room for remaining positive emotions and loving memories to be made stronger,” city officials added.

Jenn D’Angelo Lucovic brought her family to the temple to mark the first anniversary after helping with the intricate carvings with her church group.

“The kids that came and were part of putting it together had the most amazing experience,” she said. “They were smiling and happy. They felt healed and lifted just from being part of this. Kids that you never thought would pick up a power tool or do something with a piece of wood they made this beautiful structure and a couple of our boys worked on a few of the benches.”

The temple was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies along with four other future public art installations: “Inspiring Community Healing After Gun Violence: The Power of Art” is a curated series of five large-scale temporary public art installations, designed to be created with community members. Visit www.poweroa.org for more details on the project.

“The idea of it is that you make something beautiful and delicate,” said Paul Walker, one of the volunteer artists who worked on the project. “We’ve done several of these. It really resonates with the community. It’s a real medium that they can let go of their angers or their fears in this fire.”

In Washington, D.C. Florida’s congressional delegation led a moment of silence Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.

Students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School also participated in service-learning activities on Thursday and honored first responders with a breakfast at the school.

The 10:17 a.m. moment of silence was not based on the time of the deadly afternoon attack but rather the time in which the greatest number of students were likely to be able to participate.

School districts throughout Florida participated in the moment of silence, including Miami and Sarasota. Miami Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho led his district’s moment of silence, which included a viola performance.

On Thursday afternoon, students at Ethel Koger Beckham Elementary in Miami formed a heart outside their school.

Elsewhere in Florida, Sarasota-based artist John Sims, revealed the 2019 edition of his recurring series, “The SquareRoot of Love” to honor the Parkland victims and survivors through poetry, music and video.

In Miami Beach, 17 trees were planted by students at the newly established Marjory Stoneman Douglas Park, 231 Ocean Drive.

“As a neighboring city heavily impacted by the tragedy, we’ve made it our mission to stand in solidarity with the families affected,” explained Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. “Last year we marched to give them a voice; this year, we’ll give life to their legacy.”

Best And Worst Year

Liam Kiernan carried his guitar with him to mark the first anniversary. At one point he played Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” outside the school.

“It’s therapeutic,” he said. “It’s paying my respects and other people seem to enjoy it.”

In some ways, he said, the past year has been the best and worst of his young life.

“I remember crying on New Year’s,” he said. “I’ve met some pretty amazing people that have really showed us so much hope. I hope to God that there will never be another mass school shooting. It’s also the worst because we had to experience it.”

Fifteen-year-old Rihanna knew four of the victims and says that she hopes to one day be able to put grief behind her.

“One day, but it’s not going to be any time soon,” she confided.

Day That Changed Everything

Hours after the shooting, DuMornay told Patch that he and other students crammed into a corner to protect themselves.

“We had a junior from another class saying, ‘dude, there’s a shooter downstairs. He’s got a gun.’ Then we felt the gunshots from the first floor. We felt the vibration. We kind of heard it too. And then the fire alarm went off,” he said at the time.

Minutes passed like hours. At first, students didn’t know if they could trust the voice outside their classroom claiming to be a police officer.

As DuMornay and his classmates were being led out of the building, they passed one of the bodies of the victims.

“When I looked to my left I saw a security guard shot dead,” DuMornay recalled after the attack. “It made me sick to my stomach.”

Now the memories are flooding back.

“I’m going to sit back, reflect, try to get through the day and most likely go to the candle lighting find strength in the courage that I found throughout this year to kind of move past it and to move on and to look more into the future,” DuMornay told Patch.

Very Weird Day

Victoria Gonzalez described the one-year anniversary of the shootings as a “very weird day.”

Students are still struggling to get on with their lives.

“I mean we’re all suffering in different ways and different amounts. Everyone is affected in their own way,” she said. “But I think we’re slowly getting somewhere.”

Students gather outside Marjory Stoneman High School for a moment of silence to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy that left 17 dead and 17 wounded. Others honor the Parkland school shooting victims at the newly opened Temple of Time, a temporary art installation in Coral Springs that will remain on display for several months before being set on fire. Photo gallery by Paul Scicchitano.

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