Fam­ily still heal­ing a year af­ter Park­land ‘night­mare’

1 son slain, 1 shot in school mas­sacre

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION - By Terry Spencer

CO­RAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Last Fe­bru­ary, Mitch and Annika Dworet be­came part of a small cir­cle no par­ent wants to join.

Sons Nick and Alex were in class­rooms across from each other at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School when a gun­man opened fire with an as­sault weapon.

Nick, a 17-year-old se­nior with a col­lege swim­ming schol­ar­ship, was among the 17 killed that day. A bul­let grazed younger brother Alex’s head and he was hit by shrap­nel as three stu­dents in his class, in­clud­ing one next to him, were killed. The boys were the only sib­ling ca­su­al­ties in the Park­land shoot­ing and one of few such in­stances na­tion­ally.

“Our worst night­mare hap­pened. How do you get back from that?” said mother Annika Dworet, an emer­gency room nurse.

But hon­or­ing Nick while nurs­ing Alex’s phys­i­cal and emo­tional wounds has be­come their mis­sion

Their char­ity, Swim4Nick, of­fers col­lege schol­ar­ships for swim­mers and swim clin­ics, and soon will of­fer wa­ter sur­vival classes for tod­dlers.

“It speaks to Nick and who he was,” said Mitch Dworet, a real es­tate agent. A tat­too of a swim­ming Nick, who as­pired to com­pete for his mother’s na­tive Swe­den in the 2020 Olympics, cov­ers a fore­arm.

A year ago on Valen­tine’s Day, Nick and Alex walked to­gether to the three-story fresh­man build­ing. Nick’s Holo­caust his­tory class met there on the first floor. That af­ter­noon, he im­pressed his teacher by an­swer­ing a ques­tion about the founder of Adi­das, the Ger­man ath­letic brand.

Mo­ments later, the shoot­ing be­gan.

The gun­man shot down the hall, into Alex’s English class and Nick’s class­room be­fore con­tin­u­ing through the build­ing, fir­ing as he went. The Dworets learned Alex was wounded but couldn’t reach Nick. Still, what were the odds that out of 4,000 peo­ple on cam­pus, both would be shot? Twelve hours later, they learned the worst.

“For the first three to six months, we were ba­si­cally fe­tal,” Mitch Dworet said.

But while the par­ents dealt with the grief of los­ing one son, the other was still suf­fer­ing. Alex has arm pain, night­mares and post­trau­matic stress syn­drome. Nick and Alex were close, ex­chang­ing con­fi­dences and ad­vice. Nick se­cretly taught his brother to drive.

“At first he wouldn’t talk about it. It was very tough,” his fa­ther said. His mother added, “A child doesn’t want to hurt his par­ents, and I think he didn’t want to up­set us.”

Alex re­turned to Stone­man Dou­glas over his par­ents’ ob­jec­tions — he didn’t want to stand out at a new school and wanted to be with friends.

Now a sopho­more, Alex de­clined to be in­ter­viewed. He told New York Mag­a­zine last year, “Some days, I’ll be re­ally sad. Usu­ally, I’m all right. The friends that weren’t there don’t re­ally ask about it. I’m glad they don’t.”

Nick’s bed­room re­mains as he left it down to the Oreos stash he hid from his par­ents. A hand­writ­ten quote re­mains on his bul­letin board: “When you want to suc­ceed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be suc­cess­ful.” A Valen­tine’s box from his girl­friend, Daria Chiarella, rests on a ta­ble.

The Dworets now speak against the civil­ian own­er­ship of mil­i­tary-style ri­fles like the killer used and want tougher screen­ing of gun buy­ers. The sus­pect in the shoot­ing legally bought the ri­fle soon af­ter turn­ing 18 de­spite a his­tory of men­tal prob­lems and threats.

“I have an empty room there; I have an empty chair there. My dreams are pfft,” Mitch Dworet said, his voice trail­ing off.

On the an­niver­sary Thurs­day, the Dworets will visit the beach where they spread Nick’s ashes.

“Nick is for­ever swim­ming in the ocean,” his mother said.


Mitch and Annika Dworet speak in their son Nick’s bed­room be­fore the an­niver­sary of the Park­land mas­sacre.

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