Florida School Shooting’s Jewish Victims Remembered for Their Kindness

JTA
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Victims of the shooting. Clockwise Jamie Guttenberg, Alyssa Alhadeff, Meadow Pollack, Aaron Feis, Scott Beigel, Alex Schachter (JBN COLLAGE)
They volunteered. They played soccer. They went to camp. They were sweet, mature and easygoing. They were just beginning their lives, or helping others on their way.

And two may have died so that others could live.

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 and began shooting. Among the Jewish victims are first-year students Jaime Guttenberg and Alyssa Alhadeff, senior Meadow Pollack, student Alex Schachter, football coach Aaron Feis and Scott Beigel, a geography teacher.

“It’s chaos here and devastation,” Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of the local synagogue, Temple Beth Chai told JTA on Wednesday on his way to console bereaved parents in his congregation. “Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here.”

Aaron Feis (Facebook)

Football Coach Aaron Feis, who was injured while shielding students from the gunfire, died during lifesaving attempts at a local hospital.

Denise Lehtio, a spokesperson for the school’s football program, praised the coach for his final act of selflessness.

“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.”

Feis leaves behind a wife and a young daughter.

Jaime Guttenberg and her brother Jesse were students at Stoneman Douglas High School. While her brother managed to escape the school, Jaime was killed.

“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. “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.”

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 Guttenberg (Facebook)

“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.

Niewood said the Guttenberg family had faced tragedy just months earlier when her paternal uncle, a first responder, passed away from complications of an illness contracted during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.

In her free time, Guttenberg also loved to dance, and she was involved with a local dance studio, according to Facebook posts.

“Her huge passion aside from helping people was dance, and [she was an] extremely dedicated and talented dancer,” Niewood said. “She’s the daughter that everyone wanted.”

Guttenberg’s cousin, Marc Pollack, said his family was reeling from her death.

“My heart is broken from the loss of this awesome young girl and the pain that our entire family is enduring,” Pollack wrote in a Facebook post.

Alyssa Alhadeff was a mature, laid back girl who loved soccer and made friends easily. She played midfield for the school soccer team, earning newspaper coverage for her achievements on the field.

“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.”

Alyssa Alhadeff (Oregon Youth Soccer Association/Facebook)

Alhadeff had attended Camp Coleman in Georgia, a Reform Jewish camp, for one summer, and was planning on returning this year. Staff there remembered her as being “like an angel,” always happy to help out and quick to adjust to a new environment.

“She was one of the easiest campers, very mature,” said Lotem Eilon, Alhadeff’s unit head. “She was very friendly and didn’t have to deal with drama per se. Alyssa was very mature and friendly and fit into camp right away, even though she came in older.”

Camp director Bobby Harris remembers Alhadeff as a sweet girl who was a pleasure for the counselors to supervise. Several of Coleman’s campers go to Stoneman Douglas High School, and the camp will be hosting a service on Facebook Live Thursday evening in the victims’ memory.

“She was a very sweet camper,” 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 gown in preparation for graduation. She planned to go to Lynn University in nearby Boca Raton next year.

“Please say a prayer for the family of an amazing girl I got to call my bestfriend growing up,” wrote Gii Lovito on Facebook. “[H]er life was taken way too soon and I have no words to describe how this feels. Rest In Peace my beautiful angel… you are and forever will be loved.”

Meadow Pollack (WSVN-TV)

Another victim was Alex Schachter, Congregation Beth Am wrote on Facebook. He was a member of the school’s marching band.

“He will be missed immensely,” Sarah Schwartz, a relative 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 reported to have been shot as he shut the door to protect students from the gunman, an expelled student identified as Nikolas Cruz. 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.

Scott Beigel (Bonnie Mann Falk/Facebook)

“I had talked to my teacher and said ‘I am scared.’ And then we all heard gunshots, and he unlocked the door and let us in. I had thought he was behind me, but he wasn’t,” 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.

 

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