Valentine’s Day 2023 marks five years since the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland killed 17 people and injured 17 others. Just one night before, a gunman killed three people and himself at Michigan State University.
Tweets are coming from some of the Parkland survivors who are now reliving their brutal memories of the 2018 shooting:
“Every single shooting could be one of the last,” said David Hogg.
“Do you understand how it feels?” asked Delany Tarr.
A Southwest Florida connection: WINK News reporter Tiffany Rizzo grew up in Parkland and was a student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Feb. 14 still carries a tragic weight for people still grieving the loss of so many young lives.
For the Parkland community, the day is about remembering the 17 Eagles whose lives were taken. While Hunter Pollack, brother of Parkland victim Meadow Pollack, is grateful that so many people take Feb. 14 to remember those killed, he says every day is a reminder for him.
“Every day, you live the pain of not having your sister in your family to be there for you, to watch me graduate this semester,” Pollack said. “Every day, I live in pain from this tragedy. And I don’t need an anniversary to remind me that she’s no longer here. But it’s nice that other people use this day to remember the 17 victims.”
A memorial sits in front of the school bearing all 17 students’ names. People have left flowers, decorated rocks and a sign that says “never forget.” Five years later, the building where the shooting occurred is still up on campus. Students and staff have to walk by the crime scene every day. For legal reasons, it can’t be knocked down just yet, and evidence within the building was used to sentence the shooter to life in prison.
How are the survivors and the victims’ families now?
“I truly believe that we are all doing better,” said Eric Garner, a teacher at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. “We will never move on—this will always be a part of us—but I do think that we have to continue on, too.”
“It’s a community that’s forever torn, and hopefully, with all our efforts, we could rebuild it together, and it could get its old spirit back,” Hunter Pollack said. “But it’s a torn community, and it’ll never be the same.”
The entire school district made Tuesday a day of service, and the campus observed a moment of silence around 10 a.m.
“Today is for our family… It’s pretty much like every day we wake up, and we miss our beautiful daughter Gina, who was murdered in her school,” said Tony Montalto.
Montalto will never forget the day he lost his daughter Gina. She was only 14 years old.
For five years, he’s worked to create change in his little girl’s name, so other girls and boys don’t suffer her same fate.
“We need people to come together teachers, parents, administrators, mental health professionals, law enforcement, and, and are in our school folks, we all need to come together and the students, right, we all have to come together to communicate with one another to work to stop these terrible tragedies,” Montalto said.
Montalto is president of a non-partisan group, Stand with Parkland.
Lori Alhadeff helped form the group because she, too, lost a daughter at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Her daughter Alyssa was shot to death in her English classroom.
“It’s very painful. I know it’s five years, but honestly, it feels like February 14 every day for me. It’s horrible, you know? My daughter was only 14 years old, and she was murdered at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School,” said Alhadeff.
The loss of a child is something these parents will never get over, but they say the community helps to cushion the pain.
“We have been blessed again with so much community support. And, you know, we keep February 14 in this community, we keep that, especially for the victims, again, to remember who they were prior to this tragedy,” said Montalto.
Alhadeff is also working to create change through a nonprofit called Make Our Schools Safe. You can learn more about their mission here.