Remembering the 5 Jewish Victims of the Florida Shooting
Four Jewish students and a teacher murdered along with 12 other victims.
On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, America experienced one of its worst ever school shootings, when a 19-year-old former student who had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to his former school carrying a semi-automatic rifle, intent on murder.
The shooter had expressed hatred of Jews and other groups on social media, and openly called for the murder of Jews, Blacks and immigrants. As he calmly entered the halls of his former school, carrying a legally purchased high-powered rifle, he flipped the fire alarm, then took aim at the students and teachers who ran into the halls for what they assumed was a routine fire drill. Within minutes, 17 people lay dead, and 16 were injured, some gravely. “Many (students) saw their friends get hit by bullets” explained Rabbi Shuey Biston, a local Chabad rabbi who knew some of the victims. “They saw their friends go down.”
Parkland is an area with a high Jewish population and at least five of the dead were Jews. As the country grapples with the horror of this shooting and mourns all the precious lives who have been lost, here is a portrait of the five victims who were Jewish and whose families are mourning their precious children murdered in this horrific massacre.
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Just fourteen, Alyssa Alhadeff was “one of those children who always had a smile on her face, just full of love,” according to Rabbi Shuey Biston, who officiated at the bat mitzvah of one of the victims.
Alyssa was a freshman, but her soccer skills had already earned her a place on the local travel soccer team. She was so skilled, the school newspaper covered her soccer exploits on the field. In the summers, she attended Camp Coleman, a Jewish summer camp, and was looking forward to going back there again in just a few months. Her many friends describe her as mature and capable, fun to be with and laid back: a nice girl who made friends easily and was always ready with a smile.
“She’s the sweetest,” said Vicky Alhadeff, Alyssa’s grandmother, on local TV after the attack. “She’s a big soccer player, very smart, she’s in track. She’s very popular, a very beautiful girl.”
Alyssa’s mother Lori Alhadeff recalled that her daughter was “so smart, an amazing personality, incredible creative writer, and all she had to offer the world was love. She believed in people for being so honest.” In the aftermath of Alyssa’s brutal murder, her mother is heartbroken. “A knife is stabbed in my heart,” she said on social media. “I wish I could (have) taken those bullets for you.”
She said we all bear a responsibility to make sure shootings like this never tear another family apart and urged all of us to demand sensible gun laws in to prevent more violence.
Alyssa’s mother also has had another, more personal plea for us all: “Please kiss your children, tell them you love them, stand by them no matter what they want to be. To her Alyssa’s friends: honor Alyssa by doing something fabulous in your life. Don’t ever give up and inspire for greatness. Live for Alyssa! Be her voice and breath for her.”
Alex Schachter, 14
Alex Schachter was a freshman. A quiet boy, Alex had known tragedy in his life: his mother died when he was young. Alex was very close with his father and older brother, who is also a student at Stoneman Douglas High School and survived the attack. Alex’s father Max Schachter often visited the high school to help out, and it seems that Alex had inherited this quality of quiet responsibility and caring, as well. He “just wanted to do well and make his parent's family proud” explained Max Schachter of his sweet son.
Alex started playing trombone in sixth grade, and he’d become an accomplished musician, playing trombone in his high school marching band, one of Florida’s most accomplished marching bands. Alex’s school band leader bore testament to Alex’s hard work and single-minded determination in practicing trombone: “The improvement I witnessed from him was admirable and inspiring,” he explained. “I felt he really had a bright future…” In addition to trombone, Alex also played baritone in his school orchestra.
As they mourn their soft-spoken young son, Alex’s family set up a scholarship in his name so that countless good deeds and acts of charity and kindness can bear testament to Alex’s memory and his legacy.
Meadow Pollack, 18
Meadow was the youngest in her family, and the youngest of ten grandchildren. “She was the baby of the family. Everyone wanted to protect her,” her cousin Jake Maisner said. “Everyone should know how great she was,” her cousin added. “She was a beautiful girl, inside and out.”
Meadow was a good student and had already been accepted at Lynn University in nearby Boca Raton, where she was planning to enroll in the Autumn. She loved animals and was known for always being concerned for others. At her funeral, an aunt described Meadow as especially close with her mother. A friend recalled that Meadow had “a smile like sunshine”.
At Meadow’s funeral, her father Andrew said that all he can think of in the aftermath is: “You killed my kid. ‘My kid is dead’ goes through my head all day and all night. I keep hearing it over and over… This is just unimaginable to think I will never see my princess again.”
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Jamie Guttenberg was a kind, sweet freshman who already knew what she wanted in life: her goals were to be a mother and an occupational therapist. “She was a pretty girl with the world’s best smile and her soul was sensitive and compassionate,” said her aunt, Abbie Youkilis. “She always looked out for the underdog and the bullied.”
Friends have described Jaime as “the life of the party”, “the energy in the room” and “a girl who always made her presence felt” with a thousand-watt smile.
Jaime was an accomplished dancer who had performed publicly with the DTX dance team at the Dance Theatre Academy in Coral Gables, Florida. Her favorite color was orange, and in the aftermath of her horrific murder, dancers across the country are pledging to wear orange at the weekend’s dance competitions to help memorialize Jaime.
Jaime’s father, Fred Guttenberg, has tried to reach out and share his insights with the world. “I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family gets through this.” He said that he can’t remember whether or not he made time to tell Jamie that he loved her the morning of her death. He has urged parents to remember how precious our children are: “Don’t ever ever miss the chance to tell them how much you love them.”
Scott Biegel, 33
Scott Biegel was in his first year as a social studies teacher and cross-country coach at Stoneman Douglas High School and he died a hero. He was in his classroom when the shooting started and quickly locked his door for protection. But then Mr. Biegel noticed that some terrified students were outside in the hallway and he unlocked his door and urged them inside.
As he was desperately trying to re-lock his classroom door, the shooter appeared. Mr. Biegel blocked the doorway with his body and was immediately shot dead. “He unlocked the door and let us in,” explained one of the students, Kelsey Friend. “I thought he was behind me but he wasn’t. When he opened the door, he had to relock it so that we could stay safe but he didn’t get the chance.”
“I probably wouldn’t be with my mom...or see my sister again” were it not for Mr. Biegel’s heroism, the student noted.
Scott Beigel had travelled the world and was eager to share those experiences. Bruna Oliveda, a former student, recalled that “at orientation, he told us that he was excited to open our eyes to what he saw, having traveled the globe.” In recent years, Scott had settled down in Florida, and was engaged to be married shortly to a fellow school counselor.
In the summers, Mr. Biegel worked at Camp Starlight, a predominantly Jewish summer camp in Pennsylvania. Popular with the campers, Mr. Biegel was a “beloved friend and hero” noted the camp.