Seventeen people left their homes Wednesday morning and said goodbye to their loved ones, heading for the most mundane of activities: a day at school. They never made it home.
A swimmer who dreamed of honoring his mother at the Olympics. A basketball fanatic who sprouted above 6 feet tall over the summer, surprising grandparents used to seeing a little boy.
A dedicated babysitter who brought the children colored pencils.
Almost all of the victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were teenagers. Some had big personalities; others were shy and reserved. They loved sports or music. They found an outlet in creative writing or purpose while volunteering with church.
“A knife is stabbed in my heart,” Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was killed, wrote on Facebook.
Alyssa was an athlete, a member of the South Florida United Youth Soccer Association and the Parkland Soccer Club. Her mother urged her daughter’s friends to do “something fabulous” in life to honor her.
“Be her voice and breathe for her,” Alhadeff wrote.
In an emotional CNN interview, she implored President Trump to take action on gun control.
“The gunman, a crazy person, just walks right into the school, knocks down the window of my child’s door and starts shooting. Shooting her. And killing her,” she screamed, before continuing, “I just spent the last two hours putting the burial arrangement for my daughter’s funeral, who’s 14.”
Alyssa’s classmate Nicholas Dworet also was an athlete — a gifted swimmer who recently committed to competing for the University of Indianapolis, where he was awarded an academic scholarship. It was the culmination of hard work for the 18-year-old, who had committed himself to his studies and swimming in recent years.
“He was a vibrant, energetic, confident kid,” said Jason Hite, the university’s swim coach. “He was just the kind of kid you’d want on your team.”
Nicholas was a freestyle swimmer and had aspirations far beyond college. He wanted to become an Olympian and honor his Swedish mother, Annika, by swimming for the Swedish national team. Nicholas’s younger brother was injured in the shooting, grazed in the head by a bullet.
Luke Hoyer shocked his grandparents over Christmas. The boy they knew grew “like a weed over the summer,” said his grandmother, Janice Stroud. He was now over 6 feet tall, a 15-year-old taller than many grown men.
Luke loved basketball. He and his cousins played in the yard of his grandparents’ South Carolina home over Christmas, lovingly teasing one another. Luke was sweet and quiet and seemed to always be smiling.
“He was just an all-American kid who didn’t deserve what he got,” his grandfather John Eddie Stroud said Thursday through tears.
The couple will head to Florida to help their daughter bury her son.
“She’s just like any mother would be, just devastated,” Janice Stroud said. The couple said the family did not find out that Luke had died until 1 a.m., nearly 12 hours after the shooting.
Alex Schachter played the trombone in the marching band and his favorite song was Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” said his father, Max Schachter, before he broke down during an interview Thursday and said he could no longer talk about his son. Alex’s older brother survived the shooting. His mother died when Alex was 5 years old.
The first time Gina Montalto babysat for neighbor Chalmers McCahill’s children, she brought a colorful checklist to track the kids’ routine. She showed up early, asked if it was okay to do her homework once the kids went to bed and always kept in touch with McCahill while she was on duty. Gina had a “nurturing heart” and McCahill’s kids were always excited to see her.
McCahill told her children Thursday before they went to school that Gina is “now a beautiful angel.”
The school’s athletic director, assistant football coach and a teacher also were killed in Wednesday’s shooting. More than a dozen people were wounded. Thousands of students, teachers, students, parents and other family members now must grapple with the trauma of surviving a mass shooting.
The students at Douglas High are now among the more than 150,000 young people attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools who have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, according to an ongoing Washington Post analysis.
When a fire alarm started ringing near the end of the school day Wednesday, students hurried out of geography teacher Scott Beigel’s classroom. Beigel locked the door behind them. But as shots rang out, Beigel opened the door so students could go back into the classroom and hide.
Kelsey Friend, 16, said she and others cowered by Beigel’s desk, as they were taught to do in lockdown drills, and realized the teacher wasn’t with them. A student cried for his mother, wailing, “Momma, momma, someone help me, momma momma.” Students huddled and cried.
As Kelsey was evacuated from the school, she saw Beigel’s body on the floor, along with the bodies of two students, blood and thrown backpacks.
“He’s my Superman,” she said of Beigel in an interview. “Superman saves lives and that’s exactly what Mr. Beigel did.”
He was not the only one who died protecting students. Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard, was shot after throwing himself in front of students. He was married with a daughter.
Seventeen-year-old Joaquin Oliver, also killed in the shooting, was brought to the United States from Venezuela as a toddler and became an American citizen last year, a point of pride for his parents.
In an Instagram message to his mother after the citizenship ceremony, Joaquin wrote: “MAMA WE MADE IT!!!! 14 years ago we move to this wonderful country and 14 years later we officially are citizens of the United States of America. Never been more proud.”
Joaquin’s cousin, Aisha Lusby, said he was embracing the final months before high school graduation. He loved baseball — his favorite team was the Miami Marlins — and his girlfriend.
“They’re all about to start their lives,” Lusby said. “And he didn’t even get a chance.”
Lynh Bui, Allyson Chiu, Todd C. Frankel, Michael Laris, Sarah Larimer, Ellie Silverman and Julie Tate contributed to this report.