By Andi Bettinger ’21
No words can describe the lump in my chest when we heard the gunshots on the news. Nothing can portray the intense pain and emotions that imprisoned our community in South Florida on February 14, 2018. That was the day of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, when Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 others.
These 17 students and teachers that were shot dead were once our friends and our neighbors, and the shooting left mental and emotional scars on all of us. As I mourned, many young activists and I got together, knowing that we had to take action. I believe that carrying on the legacies of those who lost their lives will help bring peace and awareness to the severity of the shooting. I made it my duty to share their stories, because I could never live to see my friends’ short lives become mindless statistics of the tragedy. Each time I speak their names a shiver runs through my spine. Each victim deserves recognition and respect to honor their potential, their bravery and their beautiful lives.
Although I did not know everyone who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting, I wish to honor both those I did know and those I never got the opportunity to become friends with.
Jaime Guttenberg, 14, who was a fun, loving and energetic friend with the best laugh.
Alyssa Alhadef, 14, who was an amazingly sweet person and a talented soccer player.
Luke Hoyer, 15, who was smart and a great friend with a brightening smile.
Gina Montalto, 14, who was an artist with the most fun and bubbly personality.
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14, who was shy but would always make people laugh.
Cara Loughran, 14, who was full of life and happiness.
Alaina Petty, 14, who had the biggest heart and spent her time helping others.
Alex Schachter, 14, who was extremely talented, devoted to his music and confident.
Peter Wang, 15, who should forever be remembered as a hero, because he was shot while helping his classmates get to safety.
Carmen Schentrup, 16, who was not only ambitious but intelligent, and also very loved.
Helena Ramsay, 17, who was quietly brilliant, extremely thoughtful and made people smile.
Meadow Pollack, 18, who was always fun and cheerful and the sort of person everyone likes to be around.
Joaquin Oliver, 17, who was extremely charismatic.
Nicholas Dworet, 17, who had endless potential and showed kindness in his short life.
Aaron Feis, 37, who acted as a hero by sacrificing himself so his students could live. Mr. Feis embodied what it means to be a coach and teacher by working hard, making everyone laugh and putting himself second.
Scott Beigel, 35, who was an influential geography teacher and saved one of his student’s lives by putting his own at risk.
Chris Hixon, 49, who was a veteran and the athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. He loved his job and his students, his country and his family.
As a community, we staged school walkouts, marches to our city hall and fundraisers. Despite my outward efforts, it remained intractable to eat, sleep and stop crying even months later. People from around the globe were sending us thoughts and prayers, but they did not bring back the people I lost, nor did they change the daily danger of going to school each day.
Now, at my new school and in my new community, I want us all to get involved in our safety as students. Regardless of political views, I assume we can all agree that action needs to be taken so we can avoid hearing this story again. Our voices need to be heard.