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Parents In Parkland Bring Their Children To Honor The Lives Lost In Mass Shooting

Leah Ortega cradles the 17 angels she helped make to honor the 17 Parkland mass shooting victims.
Emilee McGovern
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A few days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 16-year-old Aiden Edrich carried a bouquet of hydrangeas from Publix, still wrapped in plastic. He walked over to a makeshift memorial of teddy bears and crosses.

“For all the victims, all 17 victims," he said. "It's just to show our respect to the community." 

His parents brought him and his sister to the memorial just down the street from the high school.

Neil Edrich, Aiden’s dad, said this will be a life lesson for his children who attend nearby Coral Glades High School.  He wants them to remember that this massacre happened in their backyard--14 students and three faculty members were killed.

“They need to understand that whatever they could do in their future career to possibly change or make society better and protect this from happening in the future,” he said.

Aiden agrees with his dad.

“We need to be more active. It's not just me, my sister,” he said. “Everybody in my generation and future generations and even past generations.”

It’s understandable that parents want to shield their kids from the horror of what happened at Douglas, but for families that live in or near Parkland, many parents don’t have a choice. It’s too close.

Four-year old Leah Ortega was holding a basket filled with 17 wooden angels from the double stroller she shares with her little brother.

She was in search of a fence near the school to clip her angels on.

“The angel is for the people that died because the bad guy shoot them,” she said.

Her mom, Stephanie Ortega, graduated from Stoneman Douglas High in 2007. She says it’s hard not to talk about the shooting with her daughter. It’s everywhere.

“We let her watch the news with us and just wanted to explain to her that, you know, there are really bad people in this world, but the people that were killed in this should be remembered," Ortega said. 

Leah had many questions for her mom. Like, “Why would someone shoot people?”

“I think she doesn't fully understand what's going on, but she's very smart and inquisitive,” said Ortega.

Ortega decided one way to help her daughter and herself through this was to make something honoring the victims.

The wooden angels the pair lovingly pieced together are painted white with gold halos. The name of each victim is written in gold ink.

Kyle Rodriguez, 8 years old, made a drawing for a classmate whose father was killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.
Credit Nadege Green / WLRN News
The Florida Channel
Kyle Rodriguez, 8 years old, made a drawing for a classmate whose father was killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.

It’s hard to go anywhere in Parkland and not hear stories about how another child knew a student who was directly impacted by the shooting.

Kim Rodriguez’s son is 8 years old. One of his classmates is Ariel Feis, whose father Aaron Feis was killed in the shooting. The football coach has been hailed a hero for shielding students from the bullets that would end his life.

“It's hard to explain that to an 8-year-old,” said Rodriguez.

Kyle said when Ariel didn’t come to school the day after her dad was killed, he missed his friend.

“She plays tag with me and like, she wants to hang out with me sometimes,”

He doesn’t know when Ariel will return to school, so Kyle made her a card. On it he drew a picture of himself and Ariel together.

And he wrote her this message:

“Sorry for your loss Ariel. I will always have your back at school.”

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Nadege Greencovers social justice issues for WLRN.