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Parent of Parkland victim to urge VP Kamala Harris to boost school violence prevention programs

A memorial to the victims is seen outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.
Al Diaz
Miami Herald via AP, File
Vice President Kamala Harris will be visiting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to meet the families of victims of the 2018 mass shooting. Seventeen people, including 14 students, were killed.

When Vice President Kamala Harris walks the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Saturday, Tony Montalto said he will remind her of how the failures by police and government officials on February 14, 2018, cost the lives of 14 students, including his teenage daughter, Gina, along with three school staffers — and what can be done to stop such violence.

“We're going to talk about what failed that day. What failed prior to that day. And what's been done, especially in Florida, to mitigate these tragedies and help prevent them,” Montalto told WLRN during an interview Friday on the weekly South Florida Roundup.

READ MORE: On Parkland visit, Kamala Harris announces initiatives to stem tide of nationwide gun violence

We're pleased to still see school safety getting such a high amount of attention from the highest office in the land,” Montalto told WLRN.

Tony Montalto founded Stand With Parkland and is its president. His 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed in the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Stand with Parkland
Tony Montalto founded Stand With Parkland and is its president. His 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed in the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

He and several family members of the victims killed in the 2018 mass shooting will join Harris on a tour of the school building. She leads the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

The visit was organized by U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Parkland, whose district includes the school.

Following the mass shooting in 2018, Montalto and other Parkland families founded Stand With Parkland, a group advocating for public safety reforms for students and staff at schools nationwide. He’s also president of the non-profit organization.

He told WLRN that he will urge Harris to push Congress to pass “The EAGLES Act,” a federal bill introduced last month that would create a national program targeted at school violence prevention. It would also expand current research and training on school violence.

The bill, named after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mascot, was introduced U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami and Moskowitz.

It would specifically expand the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center’s research and training on school violence, according to the lawmakers, who said the federal agency since 2002 has done hundreds of training operations for more than 198,000 school administrators, teachers and other school officials.

“By naming the legislation the Eagles Act, we will always remember the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the importance of preventing future school tragedies,” said Moskowitz after co-sponsoring the bill with Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart called the bill “a crucial step toward protecting our communities, schools, workplaces, and houses of worship by ensuring that they have the knowledge and resources to identify and respond to potential acts of targeted violence.”

A Senate version of the same bill is co-sponsored by both Republican Florida senators, Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott.

Montalto said he and other family members of victims have taken numerous Florida elected officials and federal officials on a tour of the school building to help them understand what failed and what could be done to prevent future school shootings.

They also tell their personal stories, he said.

”We all tell the story of our family members,” said Montalto. “My wife and I talk about our beautiful daughter, Gina, who was taken from us in such a horrific way when the shooter pressed the muzzle of his weapon against her chest and pulled the trigger, much as he had researched that fact online.”

“That’s why it’s so important to be as proactive as we possibly can to look for the people that are exhibiting these troubling behaviors and then get them the help they need before they resort to violence," he told WLRN.

Asked about plans to demolish the school building where the mass shooting happened, Montalto said he understands the desire to demolish it and to replace it with an appropriate memorial for the victims. But, while it’s standing, he said, it can be used to advocate for school safety.

“It’s an opportunity to point out to people involved with school safety and have the ability to change laws and policies to show what caused this [and] what can be done,” he said.

Listen to the full interview on the South Florida Roundup here.

Sergio Bustos is WLRN's Vice President for News. He's been an editor at the Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida. Most recently, Bustos was Enterprise/Politics Editor for the USA Today Network-Florida’s 18 newsrooms. Reach him at sbustos@wlrnnews.org
Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
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