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After a Week of Heartbreak, a Parkland Parent Speaks

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

All of us in Parkland are horrified from the news of two Parkland students’ apparent suicides this week. It’s compounding the devastation that we all still feel from the events of the shooting last year. The community is on edge.

I wasn’t really thinking about suicide before, but this is a new twist that has put a lot of stress on the parents, kids, and teachers in this community. Before we were worried about school safety, and now we’re having a different discussion with our kids about when you’re feeling a certain way, what’s an appropriate way to resolve these feelings. This week I canceled plans just to be around the kids.

Two of our four boys, Sam and Matthew, were at Stoneman Douglas on the day of the shooting. They both survived. One of them was the last kid pushed into his classroom by his teacher Scot Beigel, who was killed like a split second later. The other one lost his best friend Joaquin. Their texts to each other during the event were in the news: things like keep your head down, keep your ringer off, we’re gonna get through this, I love you. It was heartbreaking for my wife and myself to have both of our kids in a position where they have to communicate this way.

Since then, Sam has been on a variety of programs to talk about his feelings, but Matthew hasn’t talked about what happened nearly as much as we would like him to. We’re kind of forcing that issue with him. I think to a certain degree a lot of these kids could have delayed PTSD from this.

Until the gun laws are changed in America, we’re not going to be able to escape this from happening. Every single time I hear about one of these events, it’s like Groundhog Day.

Sam is trying the best he can to have his friends continue to talk to each other. What they’re talking about mostly now is suicide, and the topic keeps getting more dire.

I think some of the online backlash has been hard on the kids. We had to change all the security in our house because our kids were both getting death threats. Someone said to Matthew that he was a mile away from our house even though he was in Ireland and ended up getting picked up by Interpol. They got text messages and tweets saying things like, “I’m going to come and get you.”

I blame my generation for letting the assault-weapon ban lapse in 2004 and everything that’s come about since then. We all sat on our butts during Columbine and Virginia Tech and San Bernardino and Aurora and Pulse nightclub. We all sat there and said: oh those poor people. And all of a sudden we are those poor people now.

We feel like we won the lottery on February 14, 2018, and there’s 17 other families that didn’t. I don’t know how any of these people recover, the people that have lost a loved one during this tragedy. I have no idea.

I remember sitting at a table with Sam’s best friend Joaquin’s parents about two months after the shooting, and his father said to me: “you and I are not the same.” He said, “you still have the fear. You still have four children. My bloodline is finished. I no longer have to worry about my son going to school and coming home every day, I don’t have anything to worry about in that regard anymore. You and I will never be the same.” And that was a really powerful statement and something that made me greatly troubled and made me even more retrospective and introspective than I had been before.

After a Week of Heartbreak, a Parkland Parent Speaks