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'Smiles through the tears': Parkland community still mourning 2 years after shooting

Aaron Leibowitz, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

PARKLAND, Fla. -- At a makeshift memorial site filled with flowers and painted rocks outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday afternoon, three young Parkland residents who were in elementary school two years ago sat side by side on a bench and remembered Jaime Guttenberg.

The girls knew Guttenberg through dance, sharing a coach in the community, and they looked up to her. Emily Nagle, 13, said she would always make sure to take a picture with Guttenberg whenever she saw her at competitions.

"I wanted to be like her as a dancer," Nagle said.

A couple miles up the road at Pine Trails Park, a large photograph of Guttenberg soaring through the air while dancing was on display, one of 17 panels lined up in two rows to honor the 14 students and three adults who were killed in the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 2018.

Next to each panel was a collage of heart-shaped messages from friends and family. "Thank you for being more than a best friend. Thank you for being a sister," one of the messages said on the panel for Guttenberg. "I hope you're dancing and eating cheese in heaven."

The emotions were still raw on the two-year anniversary of the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Tony Montalto, the father of 14-year-old Gina Montalto, who was killed in the shooting, said it didn't feel much different than any other day.

 

"Some of it is just the same every day," he said. "My family lost my daughter Gina. We miss her bright and bubbly personality. We miss having our family be whole and not broken."

Julie McNichol, the mother of two current Marjory Stoneman Douglas students in 11th and 12th grades, said the community's grief is still palpable. She brought a box of rocks and flowers to place at the memorial outside the school Friday.

"It's been difficult for the children coming back here every day, looking at the building," McNichol said. She said she and her daughter planned to visit a cemetery Friday where some of the victims are buried.

Montalto and so many family members and friends of the victims have continued to channel their grief into action -- nationally, by pushing for gun control and school safety measures, as well as locally. It was Montalto who asked Hands on Broward, the group behind the panels, to also create books for the community to fill Friday with written memories of each victim.

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