PARKLAND, Fla. — The U.S. military is awarding medals to three Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets who were killed in last week’s high school shooting here, and one of them has received a rare posthumous admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The three students — Peter Wang, 15, and Alaina Petty and Martin Duque, both 14 — were members of the JROTC program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which came under attack on Valentine’s Day. Police said 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz — a former JROTC member at the school — opened fire inside the school with an assault-style rifle, killing 17 people, and authorities have hailed the JROTC members for their bravery that day in helping other students reach safety.
The U.S. Army Cadet Command said the JROTC Medal of Heroism is given to a cadet who does something “so exceptional and outstanding that it clearly sets the individual apart from fellow students” and “involved the acceptance of danger and extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage.”
The JROTC is a national service and leadership program that involves more than 300,000 students in 1,700 schools. Cadet Command spokesman Michael Maddox said that just 48 JROTC heroism medals have been awarded in the past 20 years.
Maddox said JROTC students who survived the shooting at Douglas also might receive medals for the help they gave to others as the attack was underway; Zackary Walls and Colton Haab helped to build a makeshift shield out of sheets of Kevlar for students who evacuated to the JROTC classroom, and Jude Lenamon helped panicked students to safely and quickly leave campus after he recognized the sound of gunshots and realized that the incident was not a fire drill.
“Awards for other possible cadets are going through a review process,” Maddox said.
The families of the three slain students either have been or will be presented with medals at the funerals for their children. Peter Wang was buried in his uniform Tuesday, with his medal pinned to it. His family received a second keepsake medal, Maddox said.
Alaina Petty’s family received the medal at her service on Monday, and Duque’s family will receive the medal at his funeral Saturday.
Wang is credited with saving lives by holding open a door for other students to escape, and he was wearing his cadet uniform when he was killed. His family and friends said he loved being part of the JROTC and had dreams of attending West Point.
“Peter Wang, an Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a lifetime goal to attend USMA and was posthumously offered admission for his heroic actions on Feb. 14,” the West Point Public Affairs Office said in a statement. “It was an appropriate way for USMA to honor this brave young man.”
The statement said the honor is given “in very rare instances for those candidates or potential candidates whose actions exemplified the tenets of Duty, Honor and Country.”
A spokeswoman said the honor is so rare that the academy is unaware of the last time a posthumous admission was granted.
Alaina Petty, 14, was a member of the unit’s color guard and was looking forward to her first competition in the coming weeks. Her brother, Patrick Petty, also a member of the JROTC, survived the shooting. He was in a front office with other members of the unit, as well as adults and special-needs students whom he helped usher into the room.
Cadet Capt. Madison Geller, 17, was in the same room, and she remembers Patrick Petty trying to reach his sister as the attack was taking place. “He kept texting and texting her,” Madison said.
About 1,500 people, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), attended Alaina’s funeral.
Martin Duque, like Wang and Petty, was proud to be a cadet, his friends said.
The alleged shooter, Cruz, trained with the Douglas JROTC marksmanship team when he was briefly a member of the JROTC in 2016.
Lori Rozsa is a Florida-based freelance reporter and frequent contributor to The Washington Post.