Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

5 years later, families cope through good works

- By Terry Spencer

After a gunman murdered 14 students and three staff members at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School five years ago today, their families were left with a burning question: How do we go on with our lives while honoring our loved one’s memory?

Most have answered by starting foundation­s or performing other charitable work dedicated to a variety of causes:

• protecting students,

• building parks and gardens,

• providing scholarshi­ps,

• fighting disease and helping the disabled,

• sending children to camp,

• teaching children to swim, dance, create art or play music and sports, and

• tightening gun laws. “For all of them, their biggest fear was that their loved one would be forgotten,” said Florida state Rep. Christine Hunschofsk­y, who was Parkland’s mayor in 2018 when the shooting happened. “They do this work to keep their spirit alive.”

These are their causes:

Alyssa Alhadeff

After losing their 14-year-old daughter Alyssa, Ilan and Lori Alhadeff began their foundation, Make Our Schools Safe. It advocates in state legislatur­es for Alyssa’s Law, which requires that teachers receive panic buttons tied directly to law enforcemen­t. The law has been enacted in Florida, New York and New Jersey, and it is being considered federally and in several states.

The foundation has also distribute­d to schools kits for treating gunshot victims, and it started high school Make Our Schools Safe clubs to give students a voice and instructio­n on violencepr­evention.

“We want to do everything that we can to create a safer school environmen­t,” said Lori Alhadeff, who was elected to the Broward County school board nine months after the shooting. She is now its chairwoman. “We want to make sure that (children) are protected and that they come home alive.”

She said being on the school board and running the foundation “turned my pain and grief into action.”

Scott Beigel

Geography teacher and cross-country coach Scott Beigel died a hero, shot as he herded panicked students into his classroom, where they all survived. In a few months, Beigel, 35, would have been working as a summer camp counselor. He loved camp, attending every year since he was 6.

Camp “was Scott’s magic place,” his mother, Linda Beigel Schulman, said. “He could be a kid. He could be whoever he wanted to be.”

So, two days after her son’s murder, she and Beigel’s stepfather, Michael Schulman, started the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund, which pays for underprivi­leged children touched by gun violence to attend sleepaway camp, and return annually if they maintain good grades and stay out of trouble. This summer, 250 children will participat­e.

Nick Dworet

Nick Dworet was a star swimmer who loved to promote his sport. The night before the 17-yearold died, he spoke to the younger swimmers at his club to encourage them. That is why his parents, Mitch and Annika Dworet, have focused the Nicholas Dworet Memorial Fund on swimming and water safety.

The fund provides college scholarshi­ps to swimmers and divers in South Florida and at Indianapol­is University, where Nick Dworet planned to compete. It organizes training days for swimmers, works with the Special Olympics and offers swimming lessons for underprivi­leged children.

Chris Hixon

Athletic director and wrestling coach Chris Hixon died a hero — the first person who tried to stop the shooter. The 49-year-old Navy veteran charged directly at him, but he was hit by gunfire and fell to the floor.

He took cover in an alcove, but he was shot again. He tried to get to his feet for several minutes before law-enforcemen­t came to his aid.

To honor him, his family started the Chris Hixon Foundation, which gives scholarshi­ps annually to five Broward County athletes. His son, Tom, said the charity soon hopes to offer sports camps, likely for students with special needs, and wrestling tournament­s that offer small scholarshi­ps to the winners.

Tom Hixon said the family focused on scholarshi­ps for athletes to honor the thousands his father inspired over his 27-year career to continue their educations.

Aaron Feis

Aaron Feis, a security guard and assistant football coach, hurried to the building after being told a gunman was inside, but he was shot just as he got to the door. The 37-yearold, who had graduated from Stoneman Douglas, received the National Football Foundation’s gold medal for his actions.

His parents started a foundation in his name that assisted needy students with supplies and other essentials. But the family said it became too much for them to handle alone during the pandemic and went inactive. Feis, Beigel and Hixon were honored at the 2018 ESPY Awards as the national coaches of the year.

Jaime Guttenberg

Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg started Orange Ribbons for Jaime in honor of their 14-yearold daughter who loved dance and dogs and planned to become a pediatric physical therapist. The name comes from the thousands of orange ribbons her dance troupe made after Jaime’s murder; orange was her color. They were worn by dance companies nationwide, including by the Broadway cast of “Hamilton.”

The charity provides college scholarshi­ps to dancers, special needs children and students who want to go into helping fields, like physical therapy.

The foundation is also starting Paws of Love, which will give puppies and a free year of dog supplies and vet care to families affected by gun violence.

Fred Guttenberg said his youngest dog, which was 4 months old when Jaime was killed, “saved my family” by giving the couple and their son something to care for.

Luke Hoyer

Luke Hoyer, 15, loved sports, and his mother, Gena, works with foster children. So she and her husband, Tom, combined those two interests for the Luke Hoyer Athletic Fund, which pays for foster children to participat­e in travel-league sports and martial-arts and dance lessons. Those can cost more than $1,000 for each child, which foster parents usually can’t afford and don’t get reimbursed for.

Luke was known for his dry humor and was jokingly called “the king of the one-word answer.”

Cara Loughran

Cara Loughran adored all things Irish. The 14-year-old, who performed Irish dance, was set to appear in a St. Patrick’s Day festival the month after her death. Her family was also planning a trip that summer to the island nation, where some of her relatives live.

The family establishe­d Cara Dances On, which provides college scholarshi­ps for students at the dance studio where she took lessons.

“She loved the beach, she loved to surf and, most of all, she loved spending time with her family,” a statement read by a family friend at the shooter’s trial said. “Losing Cara has left a crushing absence in their lives.”

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