FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A foundation dedicated to the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting has begun raising money and seeking designs for a public memorial to the victims on a nature preserve near Florida’s Everglades.
The Parkland 17 Memorial Foundation said the memorial will offer the public a place to reflect on the victims of the shooting, which occurred just before the school day ended at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
“It is a way to memorialize those that were taken from us that terrible day almost five years ago,” said Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed. Montalto is vice-chairman of the foundation and a liaison to the families of the other victims.
The preserve is on the border of Parkland and Coral Springs, near the high school in suburban Fort Lauderdale.
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“This foundation was established to build the official public memorial to the victims of the Parkland massacre to ensure they are forever remembered as the people they were, as innocent children with vibrant, bright futures ahead of them – educators and coaches who gave so much of themselves to their students,” Montalto said.
The project is being overseen by the foundation, and proposals for its design will be reviewed by the victims’ families.
Montalto said they have put out a national call to artists for ideas for the project.
“We’re not putting a budget on it because we want people to dream big,” Montalto said.
In November, Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison without parole following a three-month trial in Fort Lauderdale. The jury voted 9-3 on Oct. 13 to sentence Cruz to death, but Florida law requires unanimity for that sentence to be imposed.
Before the judge formally sentenced Cruz in November, victims’ families spent two days berating him as evil, a coward, a monster and a subhuman who deserves a painful death.
Cruz, now 24, had attended Stoneman Douglas. He had been been housed in the Broward County Jail since his arrest hours after the shooting. He is now an inmate in Florida’s prison system.
Remembering the victims of the Florida high school shooting
Cara Loughran: Relatives of victim ‘absolutely gutted’
Cara Loughran, 14, was an excellent student who loved the beach and her cousins, according to her family.
An aunt, Lindsay Fontana, wrote on Facebook: “I had to tell my 8-year-old daughters that their sweet cousin Cara was killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School yesterday. We are absolutely gutted.”
“While your thoughts are appreciated, I beg you to DO SOMETHING,” she wrote. “This should not have happened to our niece Cara and it cannot happen to other people’s families.”
Loughran’s neighbor posted a picture of her cheering on a young boy riding a bike with training wheels.
“RIP Cara,” Danny Vogel wrote, “and fly with the angels. You will be greatly missed, and we will always love you and celebrate your beautiful life.”
Alex Schachter: Memorial for band member
Trombone and baritone player Alex Schachter was a “sweetheart of a kid,” according to a social media post by his family.
In honor of his 14-year-old freshman son, a relative wrote on a gofundme page that the family was starting a scholarship fund “to help other students experience the joys of music as well as fund increased security at schools.”
Band director Alexander Kaminsky told the Sun Sentinel that Schachter began playing brass instruments in middle school. He was “fairly quiet” but worked hard to establish himself, Kaminsky said.
“The improvement I witnessed from him was admirable and inspiring,” Kaminsky said. “I felt he really had a bright future on the trombone.”
His mother died at an early age, and father Max Schachter often visited the school to help out. An older brother, who also attends Stoneman Douglas, survived the attack.
Helena Ramsey: Reserved and academically relentless
Helena Ramsay was soft-spoken, but also smart and a go-getter, her cousin Sefena Cooper said Thursday.
The 17-year-old junior especially loved hanging out with friends and family, “and for this to happen is heartbreaking,” Cooper said.
“Although somewhat reserved, she had a relentless motivation towards her academic studies and her soft warm demeanor brought the best out in all who knew her,” another relative, Curtis Page Jr., wrote on Facebook.
“She was so brilliant and witty, and I’m still wrestling with the idea that she is actually gone,” he wrote. “She would have started college next year.”
Another cousin, Jamie Page, called Ramsay “a genuine, beautiful, and smart human being who had so much potential and the brightest future.”
Nicholas Dworet: Swimming scholarship winner
Nicholas Dworet, 17, had committed to swim for the University of Indianapolis. The college announced Thursday that the senior was among those killed.
In a statement, UIndy swimming coach Jason Hite called Dworet an “energetic and very vibrant kind” who cheered for his soon-to-be university during a swimming meet last month.
“I spoke with his mom this morning, and she reiterated the fact that he was really looking forward to this next step in his life and becoming a Hound,” said Hite. “He really felt like he had a family in the team, and was really excited about what we’re doing up here.”
Dworet “was very positive and a very cheerful person,” his teammate Guillermo Barrios told the Sun-Sentinel. “He was the leader of the team. He was team captain. He was very leaderlike and mature.”
Carmen Schentrup: National Merit semifinalist among victims
Carmen Schentrup was a smart girl with a sweet smile.
In September, she was named one of 53 National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists in the county and a classmate tweeted “we all praised for her intelligence.”
Cousin Matt Brandow posted on Facebook that the 16-year-old visited Washington State recently and said she wanted to go to the University of Washington. He asked: you like the rain?
“She answers, I hate sweating in the humid Florida weather,” Brandow wrote. “That’s when I knew you were perfect for Washington.”
Luke Hoyer: Family searched hospitals, and then …
Fifteen-year-old Luke Hoyer was a loving, sweet person who loved basketball and “smiled all the time,” his aunt Joan Cox said.
“He was just a good kid … very loving and just enjoyed life,” said Cox, of Greenville, South Carolina.
She said Luke’s parents, Gena and Tom Hoyer, searched for their son at hospitals before finally going to the law enforcement command center, where they eventually learned he had died.
“It’s just a terrible thing,” said Cox, who said the family — including Luke’s older sister Abby and brother Jake — spent Christmas with her and other family in South Carolina. “He’s going to be missed by many.”
Peter Wang: ROTC student
Peter Wang, 15, died wearing his gray ROTC shirt, and was last seen holding a door open for other students, his cousins Lin Chen and Aaron Chen told local news outlets.
“He doesn’t care about popularity. He always liked to cheer people up. He is like the big brother everyone wished they had,” said Lin Chen.
She told the Sun-Sentinel that Wang had two brothers, ages 11 and 5, and his parents, too upset to talk, own a restaurant in West Palm Beach. They had planned to celebrate Chinese New Year’s eve Thursday.
“I feel the family can never be the same,” she said.
Lin Chen wasn’t surprised to hear that her cousin was seen helping others flee.
“He is so brave. He is the person who is genuinely kind to everyone,” she said.
Gina Montalto: Freshman color guard member
Gina Montalto was a 14-year-old freshman who participated on the winter color guard squad at the school.
Friends and relatives posted tributes on Facebook, including mother Jennifer Montalto.
“She was a smart, loving, caring, and strong girl who brightened any room she entered. She will be missed by our family for all eternity,” said the post.
One of Montalto’s color guard instructors from middle school, Manuel Miranda, told the Miami Herald that Montalto was “the sweetest soul ever.”
“She was kind, caring always smiling and wanting to help,” Miranda said.
Martin Duque: Balloons for the victims
Martin Duque, 14, was one of Isaac Briones’ best friends.
“He was like, one of the nicest people I knew,” said Briones, 15. “He was so caring.”
Briones said he last saw Martin the day of the shooting during first period.
“We were just playing around, talking about jokes and stuff,” said Isaac, who was outside the school Thursday with others holding a group of white balloons for the victims.
On Instagram, Miguel Duque wrote that words can’t describe the pain of losing his brother. He added: “I love brother Martin you’ll be missed buddy. I know you’re in a better place. Duques forever man I love you junior!!! R.I.P Martin Duque!”
Jaime Guttenberg: ‘The energy in the room’
Jamie Guttenberg’s father, Fred Guttenberg, remembers his daughter as being “the life of the party,” that person who made people laugh and was “the energy in the room.”
With dark hair and a big smile, the 14-year-old loved to dance and hoped to become an occupational therapist and mom, an aunt said. Now, she is among the dead at her school.
“Back in October I lost my brother to cancer from his service in 9/11. That at the time seemed impossible to me. It made no sense. It couldn’t happen and it couldn’t get worse. This is worse,” Guttenburg told hundreds gathered a community memorial honoring the victims.
Fighting away tears, Guttenberg said he couldn’t recall if he told his daughter he loved her as she headed to school Wednesday. He called it “unfathomable” that she was slain in a place where she was supposed to be safe.
“I don’t know what I do next,” said Guttenberg. “My wife is home. We are broken. But I can tell you, don’t tell me there’s no such thing as gun violence. It happened in Parkland.”
Joaquin Oliver: Friend won’t get to say ‘I graduated high school’
Joaquin Oliver, 17, was known by his nickname “Guac,” short for “guacamole,” because many struggled to pronounce his given name.
“My friend will literally never get to say, ‘I graduated high school,'” said Tyra Hemans, a 19-year-old who said they had been friends since freshmen year.
She last saw him at school, before the shooting.
“It was just a brief ‘Happy Valentine’s,'” she said. “He was with his girlfriend and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, you guys are so cute.'”
She added, “He’s just a goofball. He’s the only kid you’d know that would dye his hair bleach-blond, walk around school, put some tiger stripes in and just be unique. He was a unique soul.”
Oliver used to play soccer, the goalkeeper position in community games, said friend Daniel Rodriguez, and he ran for homecoming prince last year.
Oliver, whose family is Venezuelan, sometimes cooked and shared the experience on Snapchat, along with lessons he learned from his grandmother, like how to grill a steak using a rock to properly seal the meat.
Scott Beigel: Geography teacher helped students
Geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel, 35, helped students enter a locked classroom to avoid the gunman, and paid for the brave act with his life.
“If the shooter would have come into the room, I probably wouldn’t be speaking to you now,” student Kelsey Friend told Good Morning America.
Beigel “unlocked the door and let us in,” she said. “I thought he was behind me, but he wasn’t. When he opened the door he had to relock it so we could stay safe, but he didn’t get a chance to.”
Student Bruna Oliveda said she saw Beigel blocking the door.
“I don’t know how we’re alive,” she said.
Beigel worked as a counselor at Camp Starlight, which is located in rural Pennsylvania and posted a tribute to him on its Facebook page. His funeral is scheduled for Sunday at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida.
Alaina Petty: ‘Selfless service’
Alaina Petty, 14, “loved to serve,” her family said.
She participated in the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, and spent countless hours volunteering for the “Helping Hands” program of her Mormon church. After Hurricane Irma struck Florida, she helped people clean up and rebuild their lives, they said.
“Her selfless service brought peace and joy to those that had lost everything during the storm,” her family’s statement said. “It is important to sum up all that Alaina was and meant to her family and friends. Alaina was a vibrant and determined young woman, loved by all who knew her.”
Petty attended a local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Petty was a “valiant young member of the Coral Springs Ward,” Church leader Stephen E. Thompson wrote in an update.
Alyssa Alhadeff: ‘Live for Alyssa!’
Among the youngest victims was Alyssa Alhadeff, an avid soccer player whose mother screamed into CNN’s camera demanding that President Donald Trump take action.
“President Trump, you say what can you do?” Lori Alhadeff said. “You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools. What can you do? You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children go to school and have to get killed!
“I just spent the last two hours putting the burial arrangements for my daughters funeral, who is 14! Fourteen! President Trump, please do something! Do something. Action! We need it now!”
Later, on her Facebook page, she urged people to kiss their children, and “Live for Alyssa! Be her voice and breathe for her.”
Parkland Soccer Club posted on its Facebook page that Alhadeff was a “loved and well respected member of our club and community.” Team members wearing red jerseys gathered at a field in her honor after the shooting.
Meadow Pollack: ‘An angel taken away from us’
Meadow Pollack was beautiful inside and out, her cousin Jake Maisner told the Sun-Sentinel. She was a senior and had planned to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton, her father, Andrew Pollack, told the Palm Beach Post.
Meadow was the youngest of three kids and 10 Pollack grandchildren, he said.
“She was the baby of the family. Everyone wanted to protect her,” he said.
“Her life was taken way too soon and I have no words to describe how this feels,” friend Gii Lovito posted on Facebook.
Family friend Adam Schachtel said in a Facebook post that “an angel was taken away from us in that horrific tragedy … no words can be said so just prayers and sadness.”
A friend has started an online fundraising campaign to help pay funeral costs for Pollack and provide long-term counseling for her mother, who sells real estate in the area.
Chris Hixon: Athletic director ‘was just amazing’
Chris Hixon, a married father of two and the school’s athletic director, wasn’t shy about jumping in wherever he was needed, said friend and one-time colleague Dianne Sanzari.
Hixon, 49, belonged to a Roman Catholic church in Hollywood. The Archdiocese of Miami confirmed his death Thursday.
When a volleyball team needed a fill-in coach, Hixon took over; the same thing happened with the wrestling team, Sanzari said. When the school needed someone to patrol the campus and monitor threats as a security specialist, Hixon did that, too.
It was in that security role that Hixon apparently came within range of the shooter.
Aaron Feis: Coach and security monitor
Assistant football coach Aaron Feis was shot to death while selflessly shielding students from bullets. A tweet from the school football program ended: “He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories.”
Feis, 37, graduated from the school in 1999 and worked mainly with the junior varsity, the team website said. It said he lived in nearby Coral Springs with his wife and daughter.
The Sun Sentinel reported that Feis, acting as a school security guard, responded to the original call on a school walkie-talkie. Someone on the radio asked if loud sounds they heard were firecrackers, said football coach Willis May, who also carries a radio.
“I heard Aaron say, ‘No, that is not firecrackers.’ That’s the last I heard of him,” May said.
Yohance Williams, who plays linebacker, said “the sacrifice he made didn’t surprise me the least.”