The day after her daughter was killed in the Parkland massacre on Valentine’s Day, Lori Alhadeff stood alone in front of a camera on CNN. She’d just spent two hours arranging the 14-year-old’s burial. Her tears were fresh. Her face reddened with rage.
In a stilted, cracking voice, she begged President Trump for some kind of change, some end to the agony. Alhadeff, 43, screamed about metal detectors and finding a way to keep guns out of children’s hands.
“President Trump, please do something,” she shouted. She clenched her teeth and tried to catch her breath. “Action! We need it now! These kids need safety now!"
When the camera cut away, the news anchor was so stricken by Alhadeff’s grief that she couldn’t speak. The clip went viral.
In the six months since, Alhadeff’s rawness has turned to resolve. She has thrown herself into advocacy and activism. She started a nonprofit organization aimed at making schools safer, and on Aug. 28, after promising to hold the district accountable for the failures she feels led to the shooting, she won a seat on the Broward County School Board.
“I’m so excited to be the next school board member, to have a vote and be able to make sure that what happened to my daughter doesn’t happen to any other children,” Alhadeff told ABC affiliate WPLG Local 10 after her victory.
Several of the teenagers who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have taken to politics — hosting huge rallies and national bus tours — to try to prevent another tragedy. So have the parents. The exhausting cycle of school shootings in America has paved a de facto pathway for those who want to work for change in the wake of death and devastation. Some work with lobbyists to push for tougher gun legislation. Others start organizations, like Alhadeff’s, to work with schools for heightened school safety measures. Still more fight for mental-health resources. Many have grown accustomed to the flash of cameras and learned to recite the details of their children’s deaths in strained voices, hoping their pain might make a difference.
Alhadeff won a Parkland-based seat on the school board — which serves the sixth-largest district in the country — earning 65 percent of the vote. Among their duties, Alhadeff and the other board members will employ and oversee the district superintendent and shape school policies. She has a master’s degree in education and was a public school teacher in her home state of New Jersey. A former soccer player, Alhadeff coached the sport for years. Her daughter Alyssa also played and was the captain of the Parkland Soccer Club team.
When she announced her candidacy, Alhadeff expressed frustration with the way the district handled the tragedy. She said she was unsatisfied with answers it had offered parents and was angry about the lack of progress. If the district wouldn’t fix it, she said, she wanted to.
“I never envisioned myself as a candidate for school board or any other public office,” Alhadeff told a local news station. “While my daughter Alyssa is no longer with us, I still have two sons who are in the Broward school system. So I decided to roll up my sleeves and run for the Broward school board.”
After the shooting, the school district, and its superintendent, Robert Runcie, faced criticism for dodging questions about the disciplinary history of the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, and for not improving campus security in the months that followed. Stand With Parkland, a group of the victims' families, has demanded widespread change on the school board, citing the same failings that led Alhadeff and Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter was also among the 17 killed in the Valentine’s Day massacre, to run for office. They formed a political committee, Broward Parents for Better and Safer Schools, to support their campaigns. Petty did not win his race.
The day before the election, Alhadeff went to visit her daughter’s grave. As she left the cemetery, a kaleidoscope of yellow butterflies fluttered over her head, she posted on Facebook later. It seemed like a sign.
In a Facebook live video from election night, after she’d been crowned victorious, Alhadeff stood before a group of friends, family and supporters and read her speech from papers lined with creases. She spoke of her daughter and the fire her death had lighted in her chest, and how this was just the beginning.
“I didn’t give up after the tragedy,” Alhadeff said. “I never gave up hope with this campaign, and I will never stop fighting for what is right.”
When she finished her speech, she looked up and paused, just as she’d done in her plea to the president the day after the shooting. But this time, a grin spread across her face. She held her hands aloft and jumped up and down.
“We did it,” she cried, and her voice was drowned by claps and cheers. It was moment of bliss before the return to reality — a long climb out of mourning, toward something resembling progress.