Grief drives Park­land mom

The Columbus Dispatch - - Morningstarters - By Kelli Kennedy

PARK­LAND, Fla. — Every morn­ing, Lori Al­had­eff makes break­fast for her two boys, gets dressed and sprays on her daugh­ter’s Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret per­fume.

The scent is part of her ar­mor, pro­pel­ling her through her whirl­wind of a day as she fields hun­dreds of emails and jug­gles two phones, a con­stant re­minder of why she ran for and won a seat on the lo­cal school board and started a foun­da­tion to make schools safer. Why she called out Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in a tele­vised, gut-wrench­ing tirade.

“I smell Alyssa,” Lori Al­had­eff says, “so I feel like she’s more a part of me.”

A year ago, 14-year-old Alyssa Al­had­eff was one of 17 peo­ple killed by a gun­man who stalked the halls of Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School. And now, her mother keeps up a dizzy­ing pace of ad­vo­cacy, in­sist­ing that it helps her han­dle the grief, though there is the sense that if she ever al­lowed her­self to stop she would be swal­lowed whole by sor­row.

“For me, it’s hon­estly still 2/14/18,” she says, through tears that of­ten come as she re­mem­bers her daugh­ter. “It’s not re­ally set in that this is a re­al­ity for me. I feel that Alyssa is still com­ing home. She’s at her soc­cer game and she’s still go­ing to walk through this door.”

When word of the shoot­ings spread on that Valen­tine’s Day a year ago, Lori rushed to the high school with her hus­band, Ilan, and best friend, Emily Price. Other stu­dents, run­ning from the school, told them Alyssa had been shot.

They split up and went in vain to different hos­pi­tals, look­ing for Alyssa with­out suc­cess. The Al­had­effs spent an ag­o­niz­ing night at a ho­tel.

The next morn­ing, morgue work­ers would not al­low them to their see their daugh­ter. All they would show them was a photo of Alyssa’s face.

“That’s when I knew with 100 per­cent cer­tainty that Alyssa was killed,” her mother says.

Alyssa had tried to hide un­der a ta­ble in her English class. The gun­man, armed with an AR-15 style semi­au­to­matic ri­fle, sprayed bul­lets through a win­dow; Alyssa was shot 10 times, in the heart, on the top of her head and in her femoral artery — her “soc­cer leg,” her mom says.

The Al­had­effs would fi­nally be re­united with their daugh­ter as they planned her fu­neral.

“Her body was re­ally cold,” Lori Al­had­eff re­calls. She tried to warm Alyssa with her hands, “to bring her back to life.” She clipped locks of the girl’s long, brown hair, to keep.

Seething, she asked her hus­band to drive her to the park where stu­dents and me­dia mem­bers had gath­ered. She ap­proached a line of re­porters.

She did not know what to say. But she felt com­pelled to speak.

“A crazy per­son just walks right into the school, knocked on the win­dow of my child’s door and starts shoot­ing, shoot­ing her and killing her,” she screamed. “Pres­i­dent Trump, you say what can you do, you can stop the guns from get­ting into these chil­dren’s hands, put metal de­tec­tors at every en­trance to the school.”

CNN cap­tured the mo­ment live; her rage was so over­whelm­ing, her grief so pal­pa­ble, that for a mo­ment the shaken an­chor Al­had­eff talks of her an­guish as a por­trait of her daugh­ter hangs in the back­ground.

strug­gled to speak. The out­burst would be seen world­wide.

Af­ter the fu­neral, Al­had­eff’s grief quickly turned to ac­tion.

A 44-year-old for­mer teacher, Al­had­eff started Make Our Schools Safe, aim­ing to har­den schools against in­trud­ers and to train stu­dents and teach­ers so they know how to re­spond. Test scores don’t mat­ter, she says, if kids don’t come home alive.

She and her hus­band marched with Park­land stu­dents in Wash­ing­ton, de­mand­ing gun con­trol. And in May, she was elected to the school board.

“I have to keep press­ing for­ward. I know that I can’t bring Alyssa back but ... if I can change the life of one per­son ... ,” she says, her voice trail­ing off in tears.

Alyssa was in many ways a typ­i­cal teenager. She loved boys and go­ing to the beach. She ex­celled in math and Span­ish, was a gifted writer and cap­tain of her soc­cer team. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.

She didn’t have a boyfriend and wasn’t look­ing for­ward to Valen­tine’s Day. Lori knew that and tucked a pair of ear­rings and a choco­late bar in a gold bag for her. Alyssa was de­lighted and Snapchat­ted about it on the way to school be­fore her mom dropped her off.

“I told Alyssa that I loved her,” she says. It was the last time she would see her daugh­ter alive.

Re­minders of Alyssa are ev­ery­where: Pho­tos of Alyssa along with her broth­ers, now 11 and 14. The sil­ver heart neck­lace Lori wears, etched with a pic­ture of mother and daugh­ter. The stones painted with Alyssa’s name, lead­ing up to the front door.

Much of Alyssa’s turquoise-col­ored bed­room re­mains un­touched. Her re­tainer is still there, as are me­men­tos of team­mates and friends. Her yel­low soc­cer jer­sey, No. 8, hangs on the wall. And her dirty clothes are still in the ham­per by the bed.

“I haven’t washed them yet be­cause it’s too hard,” her mother says, cry­ing again.

“I want her back. I want her back.”

[BRYNN AN­DER­SON/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOS]

Lori Al­had­eff, mother of 14-year-old Alyssa Al­had­eff, who was one of 17 peo­ple killed at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School last year, stands in her daugh­ter’s bed­room in Park­land, Fla. Much of Alyssa’s room re­mains un­touched nearly a year af­ter the tragedy.

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