Seventeen students and teachers were killed on Wednesday in the second-deadliest shooting at a U.S. public school. Here are the stories of those who died.
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Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
When Alyssa was dropped off at school Wednesday morning, her mother said she loved her, and Alyssa replied, “I love you, too.” Those were the last words Lori Alhadeff would hear her daughter say, said Rabbi Mendy Gutnick of the Chabad of Parkland, where the Alhadeff family attends.
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“They had such dreams for her,” Gutnick said. “They saw her succeeding in so many different ways.”
Alyssa and her family – her mom and dad and two younger brothers – moved to Parkland, Florida, a few years ago from New Jersey, said family friend and neighbor Leon Fooksman.
“The whole move was about giving the kids a new life in sunny Florida. And this is one of the safest cities in Florida. Many people would agree there is no better place to raise your kids,” Fooksman said.
The Alhadeffs settled in quickly after the move. Alyssa’s father, Ilan Alhadeff, is a doctor. Lori stayed at home and got to know her neighbors. They found a tight-knit community centered on school and sports.
Smart and athletic, Alyssa was on the debate team and at one point also captained her soccer team, Gutnick said. He added that Alyssa had played soccer since she was little and was passionate about the sport.
Alyssa was a member of the South Florida United Youth Soccer Association and played for the Parkland Soccer Club.
“Alyssa Alhadeff was a loved and well respected member of our club and community,” according to a post on the club’s Facebook page. “Alyssa will be greatly missed.”
In a Facebook post, Lori wrote that all her daughter “had to offer the world was love.” The message was shared by Fooksman Thursday.
Gutnick described Alyssa as kind, generous and compassionate.
“It exuded from her personality, this belief and trust in all the good in people,” he said. “She was beautiful inside and out. No one could say a bad word about her.”
Gutnick said Alyssa’s two younger brothers adored and admired her, continually sharing stories about her, he said. He added that it was clear they had a “very special relationship.”
Alyssa and her parents, Gutnick said, loved each other “to the nth degree.”
In the Facebook post, Lori asked that Alyssa’s friends honor her by never giving up and “doing something fabulous” in their lives.
“A knife is stabbed in my heart,” Lori wrote. “I wish I could of taken those bullets for you. I will always love you and your memory will live on forever.”
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Scott Beigel, 35
They thought it was a fire drill at first, so the students hurried out of the classroom, and geography teacher Scott Beigel locked the door behind them. Soon, they heard gunshots, and everyone was running back up the stairs, said Kelsey Friend, 16. As they ran, Kelsey was being shoved, and she told Beigel she was scared. The students heard more gunshots, and Beigel quickly unlocked the classroom door so the students could hide.
They all cowered by his desk, like they had practiced in drills, and Kelsey noticed that her teacher didn’t run in behind her. “Mr. Beigel is laying on the floor; he’s not moving,” her friend told her.
She texted her mother a series of messages: “My teacher is on the floor”; “It was a fire drill then everyone ran and heard shots then I ran into. Classroom I’m hiding”; “I love u mommy I love u so much.”
She prayed Beigel would be okay but soon realized he spent his last moments trying to save her and the other students now huddled and crying in the classroom.
As Kelsey left school yesterday, she saw Beigel’s body on the floor, as well as the bodies of two students, blood and thrown backpacks.
“He’s my Superman,” she said. “Superman saves lives, and that’s exactly what Mr. Beigel did.”
Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania, where Beigel also worked, called him a “beloved friend and hero” in a Facebook post.
Melissa Strauss, 20, of West Chester, New York, said Beigel was a “really big role model” in her life and taught her to be respectful and to “know who I truly am and to dig deep inside and figure out what I love to do.” Many others from Camp Starlight posted on Facebook about Beigel’s friendship, humor and mentorship.
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Martin Duque, 14
Martin was “a very funny kid, outgoing and sometimes really quiet,” according to an online fundraising page that appears to have been started by his older brother. “He was sweet and caring and loved by all his family,” the page said. “Most of all he was my baby brother.”
Martin was a freshman at Douglas High School, according to the Miami Herald.
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Nicholas Dworet, 17
Nicholas, a senior, was a competitive swimmer who planned to attend the University of Indianapolis in the fall on an athletic scholarship. “He was a vibrant, energetic, confident kid,” said Jason Hite, the university’s swim coach who had recruited Nick and saw him just last month during his official school visit. “He was just the kind of kid you’d want on your team.”
And Nick, who specialized in freestyle events, had his eyes on the future: He dreamed of swimming for the Swedish national team in the Olympics, in honor of his mother, Annika, who is Swedish. His mom works as a nurse in Florida. His dad is a real estate agent.
Nick’s younger brother attended the same high school and was injured in Wednesday’s attack, Hite said. He suffered a graze wound to his head.
Nick in recent years had buckled down in his studies and swimming, Hite said. And the hard work was just beginning to pay off when he was killed.
“Nick’s death is a reminder that we are connected to the larger world,” University of Indianapolis President Robert Manuel said in a statement, “and when tragedy hits in places around the world, it oftentimes affects us at home.”
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Aaron Feis, 37
Raymond Feis, Aaron Feis’s grandfather, said he is not surprised his grandson died a hero. “He gave his life to save the kids there. Many other teachers did the same thing at that school. They literally threw themselves in front of the kids,” he said.
Aaron Feis lived with his grandparents on New York’s Long Island from about the time he was 2 to 12.
“Growing up, he was pretty amazing,” Raymond Feis said. He said his grandson would allow people to tell the same stories or jokes over and over because he didn’t want to be disrespectful and say he’d heard them before.
“He was a good Christian man. So many deeds he did,” the grandfather said. “He was a kind, generous man. He would help anybody.”
Carlos Bello lived next door to Aaron Feis for a few years at an apartment building in Coral Springs, Florida. He said that when he saw Feis with his wife and young daughter, Feis was quick with a hello and a smile.
“He was a really uplifting guy,” Bellos said. “He was always smiling.”
Bello, a 19-year-old who attends the University of Florida, would often joke with Feis, who was a graduate of Florida State. But that rivalry didn’t stop Feis from helping his neighbor. Once, Bello broke a pipe in his apartment with a soccer ball. Feis immediately ran over and helped Bello sweep away water.
“I never saw a bad side to him,” he said of Feis.
According to a short biography on the Douglas football team’s website, Feis graduated in 1999 from the school, where he had played center on the team. He returned to Douglas in 2002 and became head coach of the junior varsity team. He later coached the linemen for the junior varsity and varsity teams and coordinated the players’ college recruitment.
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Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Ethel Guttenberg described her granddaughter Jaime as fun, loving and beautiful. Jaime had been a dancer since she was a young girl, she said. “Since she was 2 years old. And loved every second of it,” Guttenberg said.
Jaime was in the ninth grade; her older brother was also at the school at the time of the shooting and survived, Guttenberg said. “She was a lovely, giving, wonderful, wonderful young lady,” she said of Jaime. “She was a wonderful, good kid. Anybody who ever met her loved her. That’s the kind of person she was. Caring, open, always smiling.” Guttenberg remembered her granddaughter’s fun personality and said she was “just a very loving person.” “We have a history in our family of giving, of helping other people who just need help, no matter what,” she said, noting that Jaime took time to volunteer and tried to help others. Jaime’s father, Fred, posted about his daughter on Facebook after the shooting, writing that his heart is “broken.” “We will be getting messages out later regarding visitation,” he wrote at the end of the post. “Hugs to all and hold your children tight.”
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Chris Hixon, 49
The wrestling team huddled up at the start of practice Thursday and started crying. It was the day after the mass shooting at their school, and they were all grieving the loss of their coach, Chris Hixon. “He was a father figure to all of us,” said senior Karlos Valentin, 18. “Being at practice without him it’s just really really hard… it’s just not the same.”
Teammates talked about wrestling in districts in their coach’s honor and the way they all want to make him proud by trying their best on the mat, and in the classroom.
Sophomore Charles Reed, 16, said that if he didn’t have a ride home, Hixon would give him one. If the team didn’t have food to bring to the meet, Hixon would bring it. “There was nothing he wouldn’t do to help our team,” Charles said. “He really saw us as an extension of himself.”
Chris Hixon was the athletic director and wrestling coach at Douglas. His wife, Debra, leads South Broward High School’s magnet program, according to the Sun Sentinel. He had also worked at South Broward and while he was there was ordered to deploy to Iraq as part of the U.S. Naval Reserve, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Hixon would tell stories from his time in the Navy, which made Charles want to be “as tough as him.” Charles wants to join the military, too.
Hixon taught Jason Wolk, 15, how to be a leader when he made him one of the team captains, even though Wolk is only a sophomore. Jason said that he used to be more close-minded about other people’s opinions but Hixon showed him how to be more accepting to different approaches to problems.
In between classes, junior Colin Notkin, 17, saw his wrestling coach Hixon, who also worked as a security guard. Colin spent “quite a few lunches” just sitting and talking with Hixon for so long that he would forget to eat his lunch.
“He was just for everyone else,” Colin said. “He played a huge role in so many kids’ lives at the school.”
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Luke Hoyer, 15
Luke loved basketball – he was a fan of Clemson University’s team and played travel basketball. He also was looking forward to joining the football team at Douglas in the fall. His grandmother Janice Stroud, who last saw her grandson over Christmas, said he had grown “like a weed” over the summer.
The once little boy was now about 6-foot-2 and spent the time at his grandparents’ house in South Carolina playing basketball in their yard with his cousins. The kids played games, lovingly picked at one another and had a lot of fun over the holidays, said Stroud and her husband, John Eddie Stroud. Luke always seemed to be smiling.
“He was just a considerate, sweet young boy,” Janice Stroud said. “He was quiet, but he was just a great kid.”
Luke was the youngest of three children. His sister just graduated from college, and his brother is a college student.
“He was just an all-American kid who didn’t deserve what he got,” John Eddie Stroud said through tears.
The couple will head to Florida to do the unthinkable: help their daughter bury her son.
“Our daughter, she’s just like any mother would be, just devastated,” Janice Stroud said. The couple said the family did not find out that Luke had died until 1 a.m.
“When you see this stuff on TV, you don’t realize what they’re going through until you go through it,” she said.
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Cara Loughran, 14
Cara was a freshman at Douglas. Her mother, Denise, was reunited with Cara’s 17-year-old brother, Liam, within hours of the shooting, but they still hadn’t heard from Cara. On Thursday, the family confirmed that Cara was among those killed.
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Gina Montalto, 14
Gina was a strong and loving girl who “brightened any room she entered,” her family wrote in a post shared on social media. “Our beautiful daughter, Gina Rose, was taken from us during the tragedy.”
The first time Gina babysat for neighbor Chalmers McCahill’s children, she brought a colorful checklist to ask about the routine for her kids, McCahill said. She showed up early and asked whether it was okay to do her homework once the kids went to bed, and she kept in touch with McCahill. McCahill said that Gina had a “nurturing heart” and that her kids were always eager to see her.
“I just felt safe,” McCahill, 35, said about leaving her children, Mason, 6, Drew, 5, and Claire, 1, with Gina. “This child who kept our children safe …”
“We were all fortunate to witness the most caring part of her and the blessing she became to us all,” she said.
Michelle Silverstone, 31, said one of Gina’s first babysitting jobs was for her daughter, who is now 8. After Gina brought over a set of colored pencils, all Silverstone’s daughter wanted was the same set. And after knowing that Gina did the color guard, Silverstone’s daughter wanted to do it, too.
“She’s just such a good girl,” Silverstone said. “She’s what I would aspire my daughter to be like.”
McCahill told her children Thursday before they went to school that Gina is “now a beautiful angel.” Mason asked whether “Miss Gina” went to heaven, and she said, “Yes, buddy.”
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Joaquin Oliver, 17
Whether attending a Marlins game or his grandmother’s 90th birthday party or celebrating becoming a citizen last year, Joaquin lived life with family in mind. “I kind of feel like sometimes they glamorize that stuff. But he was really a good kid,” said his cousin Aisha Lusby.
Joaquin was a senior at Douglas High. He loved baseball, had a girlfriend and was embracing the final months before graduation.
“He was just really loving. He really did think the world of his family,” Lusby said, crying.
Joaquin became a U.S. citizen last year, a moment of pride for his parents, who brought him to the United States from Venezuela as a toddler. There were struggles making it in America, just as there were unmitigated joys.
In an Instagram post after the citizenship ceremony, Joaquin wrote: “MAMA WE MADE IT!!!! 14 years ago we move to this wonderful country and 14 years later we officially are citizens of the United States of America. Never been more proud.”
There were 130 people at the birthday party for Joaquin’s grandmother, some flying in from as far away as Colombia and Brazil. The party had a rainbow-and-knitting theme and “Suavemente” playing on a loop. All that oldster-dancing left Joaquin and the other members of the next generation wondering. “The kids were like, ‘Oh my God, there are our parents,’ ” Lusby recalled.
Lusby said the family held out hope till the very end.
“We’re all just confused. Why him? Why any of them? What did this accomplish?” Lusby said. Now, after a night when family scouted out hospitals hoping for a reprieve, Joaquin’s parents are facing a funeral for their boy.
“They didn’t deserve that. None of them deserve that,” Lusby said, still crying.
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Alaina Petty, 14
Alaina was the youngest of four, “the light of that family’s life,” said Stephen Smith, an area stake president for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “She lit up the room.”
Alaina was a freshman, just getting comfortable in high school. She participated in the school’s Junior ROTC program. She also volunteered with her church, joining in hurricane cleanup efforts last year in Florida.
“She just had this bubbly personality,” said Smith, who is also a family neighbor. “She was always quick to put an arm around a new friend in church.”
One of her brothers is a junior at the same high school. When the shooting broke out, he was in a different building, far from the carnage.
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Meadow Pollack, 18
Like many seniors, Meadow was looking forward to graduation. She planned to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, said longtime friend Amanda Perez. Meadow had not decided on a major, but Amanda said she was eager to graduate.
“She was ready to get out of high school. I think we all can relate to that,” she said.
However, Meadow was not ready to part from her family and boyfriend, and she chose a university close to home, Amanda said. She added that Meadow and her mother were close friends. Meadow was someone a friend could always count on, with a positive nature and the ability to make the best out of any situation, Amanda said.
“She always listened, and she always told you things that you needed to hear, not things you wanted to hear,” she said. “She wouldn’t sugar-coat things.”
Amanda said it is hard to believe that she won’t get to talk to or see her best friend again. But, if she could, words would not be the first thing on her mind.
“I don’t think I’d say anything, I’d just hug her,” she said.
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Helena Ramsay, 17
Helena was a senior getting ready to start college next year. She was described by family member Curtis Page Jr. in a Facebook post as “smart, kind hearted, and thoughtful.”
“She was deeply loved and loved others even more so,” Page wrote. “She was so brilliant and witty, and I’m still wrestling with the idea that she is actually gone.”
Other family members shared childhood photos of Helena in remembrance.
In a Facebook post, Helena’s cousin Fena Cooper said Valentine’s Day will never be the same for her family. “Helena, we miss you dearly and are so incredibly sorry that your life was cut short,” Cooper wrote. “You didn’t deserve this. We love you so much and will miss you greatly.”
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Alex Schachter, 14
Alex played the trombone in the marching band, and his favorite song was Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” said his father, Max Schachter. Alex’s older brother survived the shooting at Douglas. His mother died when Alex was 5 years old. His father later remarried, and “that’s how Alex got two sisters,” he said. Max Schachter paused to cry every few words and then said he didn’t want to talk anymore.
He previously told The New York Times that Alex was “a sweetheart of a kid” and “just wanted to do well and make his parents happy.”
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Carmen Schentrup, 16
Jeff Ostroff and his daughter had shared a piano teacher with Carmen for the past few years. Ostroff said Carmen was “very friendly and always smiling.”
“I always enjoyed her piano playing,” Ostroff said. “She picked the good songs, and she played them well.” He said at their last piano recital in December, Carmen played “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “La Chapelle,” a song popular among the more advanced students.
When Ostroff heard Carmen play, “I was just like, ‘Wow. This is nice.”
Ostroff said he last saw Carmen at a local college, where they shared a hymnal as their playing was judged. “Who would know that was the last time I’d see her play piano?” he said.
Carmen was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, meaning she had a record of “very high academic performance in all classes,” said Eileen Artemakis, executive director of public information with the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
“We grieve with the family and friends of Carmen as well as the other victims at the school,” Artemakis said. “Our hearts and minds are with all of those dealing with the aftermath.”
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Peter Wang, 15
Amid the chaos and students fleeing, Peter did not run. Instead, he held a door open and helped his peers escape, his cousin Lin Chen said. “He could have lived if he didn’t try to help other people,” said Chen, 24. “His mom always tells him not to be selfish and help other people.”
As the oldest of three children, Peter was a natural leader and someone who could be relied on, Lin Chen said. She added that Peter was the “big brother everyone wished they had.”
Kevin Chen, 14, who knew Peter through the school’s JROTC program, said his friend was confident and motivated. “If he wanted to do something, he could do anything he wants,” Kevin said.
Lin Chen said her cousin, a freshman in high school, had great things ahead of him. She added that she recently helped him plan out the rest of the classes he needed for the next three years. Lin Chen said it didn’t matter what Peter wanted to study or do in the future, he would be good at it.
But for now, all Peter was looking forward to was celebrating Chinese New Year with his family, attending the big party and getting red packets stuffed with money, Lin Chen said.
“This family will never be the same,” she said. “And every new year will be very hard in the future.”
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The Washington Post’s Allyson Chiu, Lynh Bui, Todd C. Frankel, Matt Bonesteel, Cindy Boren, Katie Zezima, Lori Rozsa, Sarah Larimer, Michael Laris and Ellie Silverman contributed to this report.