‘Forever in our hearts:’ Remembering Parkland 3 years after shooting

Austen Erblat, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

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 lay dead.

On Sunday, 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.

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

Dozens of notes hung from a memorial wall, sharing sentiments of love and healing:

“You will be forever in our hearts.”

“Remember God only picks beautiful flowers from his garden.”

“Really hard to realize that you are not here with us anymore. I promise to carry on your beliefs, actions and goals. You will be missed forever.”

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen asked all present to never forget those lost that day. He then read the names of all 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.

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.”

Fort Lauderdale 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.”

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 Sunday, 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.

“This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call,” Biden’s statement said. “We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer … We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change. The time to act is now.”

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Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan