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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Rafael Olmeda

Parents visit site of Parkland mass shooting: ‘Do not turn away’

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — What Linda Schulman saw in the 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, while devastating, was borne with painful necessity.

“Do not turn away,” she said.

Schulman is the mother of Scott Beigel, the teacher who held his door open for terrified students to race into his classroom knowing that a gunman was headed their way. The children who made their way into his classroom were spared. Beigel was not.

“I never got to say goodbye to Scott,” his mother said. “I needed to stand there, where he taught his last class.”

The Broward state attorney’s office began escorting the parents of the victims of the Parkland mass shooting through the crime scene Wednesday, at their request. The building is likely to come down in the near future. Now that the trials of gunman Nikolas Cruz and former school resource officer Scot Peterson are concluded, there’s little reason for the building to remain standing.

Lawyers for family members are hoping to persuade a judge to allow a reenactment of the crime, using blanks instead of live ammunition. Once that happens, if it happens, the Broward School Board will be allowed to do what students and officials have wanted to do since Feb. 14, 2018: tear the building down.

The building has been preserved ever since Cruz killed 17 students and staff and wounded 17 more. Schulman toured the crime scene Wednesday along with the parents of Gina Montalto, 14, and Nicholas Dworet, 17, who were killed on the first floor. Also walking through the building was the brother of coach Aaron Feis, the last of the first-floor victims.

“I don’t know that I’ve processed all of it,” said Gina’s father, Tony Montalto. “I don’t understand to this day why my daughter was on the wrong side of a locked classroom door.”

Gina was trapped in the hallway because she had permission to step out of her classroom to work on an assignment while her class continued a discussion unrelated to her task. She could have stayed in her classroom. She could have been sent to the media center. But no one predicted Cruz would show up determined to murder as many people as he could that Valentine’s Day.

And for her father, one of the most difficult tasks is reconciling what happened that day with what has happened since — a jury refused to sentence Cruz to death, condemning him to life in prison instead. And a second jury found former school resource officer Peterson not guilty of child neglect for his decision to take cover instead of trying to stop the carnage in the 1200 building.

“I went there to the campus this morning to see for myself the place where my beautiful, forever-14-year-old daughter died,” Montalto said hours after he left the building. He said he couldn’t help but think of what he considered to be the justice system’s failures: to hold Cruz accountable for what he did, and to hold Peterson accountable for what he did not.

“There is no way to separate the tragedy from the trials,” he said.

Both Montalto and Schulman said they approved of a proposal to reenact the crime to demonstrate what those on campus may have seen or heard the day of the shooting.

“I don’t know what a jury needs to see for us to get a guilty verdict,” said Montalto.

Numerous family members have filed lawful death suits against Cruz, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Peterson.

Peterson’s civil attorney declined to comment in detail Wednesday about the potential for a reenactment.

“Our benchmarks of professionalism include respect for our community and respect for and deference to our trial judge in such matters,” attorney Michael Piper said. “Extrajudicial comment on attorney (David) Brill’s motion to restage Nicolas Cruz’s murderous rampage compromises those benchmarks. We will respond in accordance with (Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa) Phillips’s direction.


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