Remembering The 17: Parkland Community Mourns Together In Pine Trails Park
They came to pay their respects, to find community, to look for meaning. They brought bundles of flowers, hand-lettered posters, prayers written on paper hearts.
On Thursday night, thousands of people came to Pine Trails Park to hold vigil on the anniversary of the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
They came for the dead: Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang.
They came for the survivors.
They came to heal. To try.
Here are some of the moments they found:
17 SERVICE PROJECTS
The vigil opened with a video montage highlighting community service projects in honor of each victim completed over the last year. Called Parkland Hearts, it was organized by HandsOn Broward.
There were projects for the kids who loved animals. Volunteers with the Broward County Animal Care and Adoption Center cleaned and socialized animals in memory of Meadow Pollack. For Helena Ramsay, volunteers did the same at the Abandoned Pet Rescue in Fort Lauderdale.
And there were gardens. A butterfly and reflection garden for Aaron Feis—Coach Feis. A garden for Carmen Schentrup. A vegetable garden for Scott Beigel at a Boys and Girls Club.
The video also featured a series of murals. For Alex Schachter, a mural in the Westglades Middle band hallway—his father told the audience, “the majority of his life was in this middle school and this band, and he loved it so much ... [I] wanted to leave a legacy that Alex was here.” For Alyssa Alhadeff, the soccer team painted a mural of the number 8—as an infinity symbol with soccer balls—which was her number. Jaime Guttenberg's father, Fred, spoke of the dance studio in Coconut Creek where volunteers renovated a room for kids of all abilities and painted mural for his daughter: “I feel Jaime here.”
There were events that celebrated lives: the gathering at the beach for Nick Dworet who loved to swim. The Special Olympics event for Chris Hixon. The day kids came together to do Luke Hoyer's favorite things: play basketball, eat snacks, like gummy bears and chicken nuggets.
And there were the projects to make things better in memory of those lost. There was the military care package drive in honor of Alaina Petty. For Cara Loughran, a project at the beach, building resiliency dunes. For Gina Montalto, a renovated library. Friends painted a basketball court for Joaquin Oliver. Another basketball court was revitalized for Peter Wang with the Broward Outreach Center and friends from his JROTC platoon.
A FATHER'S KINDNESS
Moments of kindness were nested in tragedy Thursday night.
Corey Hixon stood with his family, inconsolable. His father, Chris Hixon, died protecting other people's children. His dad was the athletic director and wrestling coach, yes, but there was this other thing Corey wanted people to know, and when the story was too hard to tell, Corey Hixon leaned on a family friend, Kelly Thomas:
"When they went to DC for March for Our Lives," started Kelly.
"Yes," said Corey
"A student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas came up to Corey and said how much your dad meant to her," said Kelly.
With Corey nodding her on, Thomas explained the student who came up to Corey has the same heart condition that Corey does. When she was feeling ill, Corey's father sat with her at school while she waited for her mom, so she wouldn't have to be alone.
This was the detail Corey needed other voices to carry: Chris Hixon, his father, took care of a girl whose heart reminded him of his son.
A HARD DAY
Kathleen Russell held her daughter, Lindsay.
"It's very difficult because I was with my friend when she started receiving the texts from her children, and of course everyone goes, over a year ago today — at 2:23 I was doing this, at 2:28 I was doing this," said Kathleen. "It brings back minute-by-minute the horrific experience that everyone went through. So I think having this in the end is great because it’s been such a hard day."
"I think for a lot of my friends who don’t even go to Douglas, going to school the next day was really hard," said Lindsay. "Saying goodbye to my mom this morning I thought about how those kids said, 'I love you, goodbye,' and that was it. And like with today being Valentine’s Day, we were saying it's a day to love each other so much more."
"I think that the biggest thing I'm feeling today is that I'm sad, but I just love everyone I have in my life," said Lindsay. "Because tomorrow they might not be here."
FAITH LEADERS SPEAK
An interfaith service was held at the vigil.
Pastor David Hughes of Church By The Glades in Coral Springs said "heaven wept" on Feb. 14, 2018.
"I’ve seen you rise up over the last 12 months," he said to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. "You are the most powerful voices in all of America.”
Imam Mufti Sultan Mohammed of the Islamic Foundation of South Florida spoke first in Arabic, then translated his prayers into English.
“After every traumatizing occurrence, God brings us all together," he said. “This is a sign that we are strong.”
Caitie Switalski, Jessica Bakeman, Katie Lepri, Sammy Mack and Jessica Weiss contributed to this story.