Five years after the Parkland school shooting, here’s what has changed (and what hasn’t)

Feb 14, 2023, 10:30 AM | Updated: Feb 15, 2023, 7:31 am

PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 18: Angela Tanner, rests against the fence that surrounds the Marjory Stone...

PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 18: Angela Tanner, rests against the fence that surrounds the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on February 18, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Police have arrested 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz for killing 17 people at the high school. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The shooting that ripped apart 17 families in Parkland, Florida, five years ago on Valentine’s Day ignited a wave of student-led protests and bipartisan legislation to combat the plague of school shootings devastating the country.

The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A school resource officer faces charges after allegedly failing to confront the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

And a Republican governor signed legislation that raised the age to buy firearms in Florida; effectively took guns away from thousands of people deemed to be a threat; and increased mental health resources for students.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act also allows some teachers to be armed — an idea that has been debated in other states after school shootings as political leaders wrestle with the politics of gun-control legislation.

But five years after the bloodbath in Parkland, the scourge of US mass shootings continues nationwide, including one Monday that again terrified an American campus, with three dead and five wounded at Michigan State University.

So far this year, the US has suffered at least 67 mass shootings — attacks in which four or more people are shot, not including the assailant, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

And this spring marks the first anniversary of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were gunned down. Just like with Parkland, the anguish in Uvalde was compounded by fury after claims officers failed to immediately stop the gunman.

After years of failed attempts to pass federal legislation, the Texas tragedy spurred the first major federal gun safety law in decades, enacted in June. It marked the most significant gun legislation since the assault weapons ban of 1994, which expired after 10 years.

The new law supports so-called red flag laws, which allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act also provides funding for school safety and state crisis intervention programs.

But it did not ban assault rifles — which many gun safety advocates have clamored for.

As the country reckons with how to prevent more children from being killed at school, the legacies of the Parkland victims live on. Here are their stories:

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14

Alyssa, 14, was a student at Stoneman Douglas and a soccer player for Parkland Travel Soccer.

Lori Alhadeff, Alyssa’s mother, told HLN she dropped her daughter off at school Wednesday and said, “I love you.” When the mother heard about the shooting, she rushed to the school. But it was too late.

“I knew at that point she was gone. I felt it in my heart,” she said.

“Alyssa was a beautiful, smart, talented, successful, awesome, amazing soccer player. You’ll be greatly missed, Alyssa. We love you so much. You’ll always, always be in our hearts.”

Alyssa also attended Camp Coleman, a Jewish sleepaway summer camp.

“On behalf of the entire Coleman community, we offer heartfelt condolences and prayers for comfort to Alyssa’s family and friends,” the camp posted on Facebook after her death. “May Alyssa’s memory forever be for a blessing.”

Scott Beigel, 35

Beigel, a geography teacher, was killed while trying to usher students back into his classroom when the gunfire erupted.

Kelsey Friend, one of Beigel’s students, said he was shot outside the classroom door and saved her life.

“Mr. Beigel was my hero and he still will forever be my hero. I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students in the classroom,” she told CNN. “I am alive today because of him.”

Beigel, 35, was also a counselor at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania, which called him a “friend and hero” on Facebook after the shooting.

Kelsey said the teacher was an amazing person and his memory would live on with her.

“If I could see him right now … I’d give him a huge teddy bear to say thank you,” she said. “But unfortunately I can’t do that.”

Martin Duque Anguiano, 14

Miguel Duque mourned the loss of his younger brother, Martin, and remembered him as caring and loving.

“He was a very funny kid, outgoing, and sometimes really quiet. He was sweet and caring and loved by all his family. Most of all he was my baby brother,” Miguel wrote on a GoFundMe page created after the shooting to help pay for funeral expenses.

“My family and I have no words to describe the event that’s has happened on this date, all my prayers to the lost ones.

Nicholas Dworet, 17

Nicholas, a 17-year-old senior, was on the brink of joining the University of Indianapolis swim team, which had recruited him.

He wanted to study finance and move to Boston with his girlfriend, his mother Annika Dworet testified during the gunman’s trial.

“Nick had big goals — bigger than most of us dare to dream of,” she said.

A note taped next to his bed epitomized his determination: “I want to become a Swedish Olympian and go to Tokyo 2020 to compete for my country,” the note read, according to Nick’s mother. “I will give all I have in my body and my mind to achieve the goals I have set.”

“Now,” Annika Dworet said, “we will never know if he would have reached his goal to go to the Olympics.”

After the shooting, Robert L. Manuel, then-president of the University of Indianapolis, said Nick’s death was “a reminder that we are connected to the larger world, and when tragedy hits in places around the world, it oftentimes affects us at home.”

Aaron Feis, 37

Feis, an assistant football coach, was killed after he threw himself in front of students to protect them from oncoming bullets, football program spokesperson Denis Lehtio said after the shooting.

“He died the same way he lived — he put himself second,” Lehtio said. “He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero.”

Colton Haab, a junior who had a strong relationship with Feis, told CNN he saw the coach running toward the sounds of gunshots.

“That’s Coach Feis. He wants to make sure everybody is safe before himself,” he said.

“(He) made sure everyone else’s needs were met before his own. He was a hard worker. He worked after school, on the weekends, mowing lawns, just helping as many people as possible.”

School football player Chad Lyons said Feis, 37, supported him when he was going through leukemia treatments.

“He guided me through them. He would send me prayers. He would send me Bible scripts and just stuff to cheer up my day. Funny memes,” the player said.

“He was just an amazing person to be led on and taught by, and I’m thankful enough to even be in his presence, just going through high school.”

Jaime Guttenberg, 14

The death of Jaime, 14, put her family through unimaginable anguish.

“My heart is broken,” her father, Fred Guttenberg, posted on Facebook after the massacre. “Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school. We lost our daughter and my son Jesse Guttenberg lost his sister.”

“I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family gets through this,” the father continued. “We appreciate all of the calls and messages and we apologize for not reacting to everyone individually … Hugs to all and hold your children tight.”

Chris Hixon, 49

Hixon, the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, was also an amazing husband and father, his widow Debra told CNN.

The widow described Hixon as “probably the best man that I” — but was too grief stricken to finish the sentence.

Hixon, 49 would give students rides or lunch money and, if they needed it, open up his home to them.

“He just loved being around kids and giving back to the community,” Debra Hixon said.

“Every one of those students he thought of as his own kid.”

Chris Hixon loved serving his country, too. As a Naval reservist, he deployed to Iraq in 2007.

“He loved being an American and serving his country and he instilled that in our kids,” she said.

Luke Hoyer, 15

Up in South Carolina, Luke’s grandparents Eddie and Janice Stroud learned about the massacre from TV reports, they told CNN affiliate WYFF in Greenville.

Then the horror set in.

“The day went by, and we didn’t hear anything about Luke. We kept hoping they would find him wandering around in shock,” Janice Stroud told the station.

“By 7 o’clock, I said, ‘I don’t like this. This is not good,'” her husband said. “Finally, (police) called us at 1 a.m. and said Luke was among the students that had been killed.”

The deadly rampage seemed inexplicable. “He was a good kid. He … never got in trouble,” Janice Stroud said. “He was the last of my daughter’s children who still lived at home.”

Cousin Grant Cox called Luke “an amazing individual — always happy, always smiling. His smile was contagious, and so was his laugh.”

Cara Loughran, 14

Isabel Dalu, a close friend of Cara’s family, testified last year during the gunman’s trial about all the things the 14-year-old was looking forward to before she was gunned down:

Cara’s 15th birthday would have been just a week away, and she would have been able to get her learner’s permit to drive, Isabel said.

Cara had also recently started Irish dancing again, and she was excited to dance in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The family had planned a trip to Ireland for that summer to visit family.

“She dreamed of her first date, her first kiss and falling in love. Cara dreamed of going to homecoming and prom, she dreamed of graduating at the top of her class with all of her loved ones watching,” Isabel said.

“But Cara didn’t make it to any of these milestones.”

Gina Montalto, 14

Gina was a member of the school marching band’s winter guard. She was described as sweet and artistic by those who were close to her.

Her death made an impact on Winter Guard International, which publicly mourned her death. “No student should ever go to school afraid,” the group said.

One of her middle school color guard instructors told The Miami Herald that Gina “was the sweetest soul ever.”

“My heart is broken into pieces. I will forever remember you, my sweet angel,” Manuel Miranda told the newspaper.

Gina’s aunt Shawn Sherlock posted a tribute on Facebook, saying her niece was also a gifted artist.

“I know somewhere in the heavens she’s designing the latest and greatest trends and has her art book she always carried with her as well,” she wrote.

Joaquin Oliver, 17

Joaquin was born in Venezuela, moved to the United States when he was 3 and became a naturalized citizen in January 2017, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“Among friends at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he was known as ‘Guac,’ a moniker that appeared on his Instagram account. His interests: football, basketball, the Venezuelan national soccer team, urban graffiti and hip-hop,” the paper said.

An Instagram post less than two months before Joaquin’s death was the teen’s final social media post — a message to his girlfriend, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“Thank you lord for putting a greater blessing than I could ever imagine into my life this past year,” he said. “I love you with all my heart.”

Alaina Petty, 14

Alaina was vibrant, determined and philanthropic, her family said. She had volunteered after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017.

“Alaina loved to serve,” a statement from her family said after the shooting.

She was also a part of the “Helping Hands” program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“While we will not have the opportunity to watch her grow up and become the amazing woman we know she would become, we are keeping an eternal perspective,” her family said.

Alaina, 14, was also a member of the junior ROTC at her school, a leadership program taught by retired Army personnel.

Meadow Pollack, 18

Meadow, 18, had been accepted at Lynn University in Boca Raton, university spokeswoman Jamie D’Aria said shortly after the massacre.

“Meadow was a lovely young woman, who was full of energy. We were very much looking forward to having her join our community in the fall,” D’Aria said.

Her friend GII Lovito asked for prayers for Meadow’s family.

“Please say a prayer for the family of an amazing girl I got to call my best friend growing up Meadow Pollack … her life was taken way too soon and I have no words to describe how this feels,” Lovito wrote on facebook.

“Rest In Peace my beautiful angel. You are and forever will be loved.”

Helena Ramsay, 17

“Valentine’s Day will never look the same for my family,” Fena Cooper, who said Helena was her cousin, posted on Facebook after the attack.

“Helena, we miss you dearly and are so incredibly sorry that your life was cut short. You didn’t deserve this. We love you so much and will miss you greatly.”

Another family member, Curtis Page Jr., said “Helena was a smart, kind hearted, and thoughtful person.”

“My family lost an absolutely beautiful member today, due to a senseless school shooting,” Page posted on Facebook.

“She was deeply loved and loved others even more so. Though she was some what reserved, she had a relentless motivation towards her academic studies, and her soft warm demeanor brought the best out in all who knew her. She was so brilliant and witty, and I’m still wrestling with the idea that she is actually gone.”

Page said he hopes others can be inspired by Helena’s “life well lived, no matter how short.”

Alex Schachter, 14

Alex played the baritone in the school marching band and trombone in the school orchestra, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“I felt he really had a bright future on the trombone,” Alexander Kaminsky, then-director of bands at the Parkland high school, told the newspaper.

Alex’s family set up a GoFundMe page in the aftermath of the shooting to raise money for a scholarship fund.

“In an effort to continue his memory, this scholarship is being created to help other students experience the joys of music as well as fund increased security at schools. Please help keep Alex’s spirit alive,” the page said. “The money raised will be sent to the Stoneman Douglas Marching Eagles.”

Carmen Schentrup, 16

Carmen was a National Merit finalist — an honor she never got to celebrate before her death.

“Unfortunately, the letter arrived in the mail the day after she passed, so she never knew that,” Stoneman Douglas student Ariana Ortega told Florida lawmakers after the shooting.

“She was going to change the world, and I’m sure of that,” Ortega said. “But she doesn’t have the chance now.”

Carmen was mourned in the community and on social media.

“Rest In Peace Carmen Schentrup,” one tweet said. “You family is forever in my thoughts and prayers. I’m so sorry.”

Peter Wang, 15

Peter had been a member of the junior ROTC program, and his parents owned a restaurant in West Palm Beach, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

His close friend, Kelsey Friend, and other classmates said Peter was shot while holding a door open to let fellow students get to safety. After the shooting, thousands of people signed a White House petition asking for the JROTC member to be buried with military honors.

“His selfless and heroic actions have led to the survival of dozens in the area,” the petition said.

Kelsey, who shared a culinary class with Peter, said she “started screaming and crying” when she learned of her friend’s death by seeing images on Google of those who had died.

“I am wearing my culinary shirt right now to remember him,” she told CNN shortly after the massacre.

Kelsey said Peter had been excited about the upcoming Chinese New Year.

“Me and my family celebrated it for him, eating Chinese,” she said.

Adjusting to daily life without her close friend has been difficult, Kelsey said.

“It’s hard to not have him in the hallways anymore because me and him used to laugh with each other,” she said. “He used to make me smile. And now he’s gone.”

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