Taken from his family at age 14, Alex Schachter’s bedroom is now a source of solace for his dad.
“All those memories, you know, they come rushing back,” said Max Schachter, standing in the room. “And all the times when I tucked him into bed, and (we had) great conversations and told him I loved him.”
Is there anything worse than losing a child? The grief for parents never seems to dissipate.
Gina Montalto was another of the 14 kids who died in the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School three years ago.
“My beautiful daughter Gina was taken from us, so that result for our family is always there, but we’re hopeful that as the commemoration approaches that everyone else will take a few moments and remember who the victims were, who they were as people,” said Gina’s dad, Tony Montalto.
Channeling grief into action: it’s a common theme in Parkland. Among the victim’s families are Manuel Oliver and Fred Guttenberg, who have become gun control activists, as well as Lori Alhadeff and Debbi Hixon, who serve on the school board, Ryan Petty, who serves on the state board of education, and Schachter and Montalto, who devote much of their time to making schools safer.
“The best way to prevent the next school shooting is to proactively prevent it,” Montalto said at a news conference last year, endorsing a school safety system developed by the U.S. Secret Service.
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“All of us are trying to honor our loved ones, and we want something good to come from this horrible tragedy. We don’t want their death to be in vain,” Schachter said.
Schachter created SafeSchoolsForAlex.org. The organization provides free online music lessons for kids who can’t afford them, among other services, because Alex Schachter played trombone in the Douglas High marching band.
Safe Schools for Alex also launched the first School Incident Report dashboard. It displays otherwise largely inaccessible state data on things like thefts, fights, and bullying incidents, making the information easily available for parents and educators, and searchable by school.
“Now every parent can type in their school, and find out exactly what’s happening after they drop their kid off and also providing them with the information they need to help their schools reduce violence, because schools can’t do this on their own. There needs to be a collaborative effort,” Schachter said.
Tony Montalto co-founded StandWithParkland.org. Its mission is to promote school safety, mental health support, and responsible gun ownership. Right now, the group is advocating a state bill that would make schools notify parents within 24 hours of any credible threat.
“Had all of our parents known that there was a threat for somebody to shoot up Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we would’ve made different choices,” Montalto said.
The activism of the parents who lost children, and of a wife who lost her husband, is not easily sustained.
“It’s a struggle every day, a lot of days I don’t want to get out of bed,” Schachter said.
Their struggles, though, in honor of their kids and loved ones, are making a positive impact for the rest of us.
Many of the victims’ families have established organizations to promote school safety, mental health support, scholarships, and other causes. You can check them out by clicking these links: