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Florida school shooting’s Jewish victims remembered

By Ben Sales and Josefin Dolsten

(JTA) – Jewish students and staff were among the 17 people who were killed when a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 14 and began shooting. Among the Jewish victims were Jaime Guttenberg, Alyssa Alhadeff, Meadow Pollack, Alex Schachter and Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who saved students’ lives by closing a door as he was shot.

More than 1,000 mourners gathered at a Parkland, Florida synagogue for the funeral of Meadow Pollack, who was buried Friday, Feb. 16.

“‘My kid is dead’ goes through my head all day and all night. I keep hearing it over and over. I have always been able to protect my family. Our kids should be safe but my princess wasn’t safe,” her father Andrew Pollack said at the funeral held at Temple K’ol Tikvah.

Pollack’s funeral came shortly after the first service for a victim, Alyssa Alhadeff, they were both buried at the Star of David Cemetery.

Pollack’s funeral was also attended by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

Rabbi Bradd Boxman called on those who were present to do an act of kindness in Meadow’s memory.

“We must carry Meadow’s love forward and not let it die in a pine wood box,” Boxman said, according to the Associated Press.

Jaime Guttenberg and her brother Jesse were students at Stoneman Douglas High School. Her brother managed to escape the school.

“My heart is broken. Yesterday, Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school,” her father, Fred Guttenberg, wrote on Facebook. “I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family gets through this.”

Guttenberg and her brother were volunteers at The Friendship Initiative, a program that pairs neurotypical students like them with special needs kids. Another volunteer at the center, Gina Montalto, also was killed in the shooting.

Jeb Niewood, president of The Friendship Initiative, remembered Guttenberg as a genuine person who loved helping others. “Jaime was quite an amazing human being, she had a maturity and compassion far beyond her years, she had an aura, a glow, that radiated from her smile and her eyes, she was beautiful in every way,” Niewood told JTA.

Alyssa Alhadeff was a mature, laid back girl who loved soccer and made friends easily. “She’s the sweetest,” Alhadeff’s grandmother, Vicky Alhadeff, told Miami’s Channel 7 News on Wednesday night. “She’s a big soccer player, very smart, she’s in track. She’s very popular, a very beautiful girl. Oh my God, she’s my life. How could I not love her? She’s my granddaughter.”

Alhadeff had attended Camp Coleman in Georgia, a Reform Jewish camp, for one summer, and was planning on returning this year. “She was a very sweet camper,” Camp Director Bobby Harris said. “Her counselors always said she did exactly what she was told to do, always helped out whenever she was needed to help out. She was like an angel. She was just a bright light and was very positive.”

Meadow Pollack, a senior, had gone missing and was confirmed dead Thursday morning. In a photograph posted on Facebook, she is wearing a cap and gown in preparation for graduation. She planned to go to Lynn University in nearby Boca Raton next year.

Alex Schachter, whose family attended Congregation Beth Am, was a member of the school’s marching band. “He will be missed immensely,” an extended family member of Schachter’s told ThinkProgress. “Everybody is just broken up and beyond shocked… His family adored him and we’re all really just in shock.”

Scott Beigel was shot as he shut the door to protect students from the gunman. One of the students in his class, Kelsey Friend, recounted how Beigel, 35, let her and other students into his classroom and then attempted to lock the door.

“We all heard gunshots, and he unlocked the door and let us in,” Friend told ABC News. “When he opened the door, he had to relock it so we can stay safe, but he didn’t get the chance to [stay safe].” Friend said she would likely not be alive had Beigel not opened the door for her. “I’m so thankful that he was there to help everybody in that classroom live because he was in the doorway and the door was still open and the shooter probably didn’t know we were in there because Mr. Beigel was laying on the floor,” she told ABC. “If the shooter would have came into the room, I probably wouldn’t be speaking with you night now.”

Friend called Beigel “a really amazing teacher.”

Beigel was a staff member at Camp Starlight in Starlight, Pennsylvania. In a Facebook post, the camp called him a “beloved friend and hero.”

“[H]e was someone who could make you laugh in any situation and those kids were very lucky to have him as a teacher and protector,” Liza Luxenberg, a friend from Camp Starlight, wrote to JTA. “I am not at all surprised to hear that he endangered his own life to save others. He has always been a hero to me as a friend and now unfortunately the rest of the world gets to learn of his heroism in this tragedy.”

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