PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — Each funeral for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre is different, yet the same: the mourning relatives, teens walking in clutches wearing black, politicians paying their respects, media cameras pointing at the entrance from across the parking lot.
And each service takes its toll on the young mourners, many of them attending more friends’ funerals in a span of days than many middle-aged people have in their lifetimes. Services for 14 Stoneman Douglas students, the athletic director, a coach and a geography teacher began Friday, two days after the shooting, and will end in the next few days.
Erica Sparrow, a 17-year-old senior, said Monday that she went to her first funeral a couple of weeks ago, “now I have one every day.” She and her friend, Lauren Kuperman, also 17, began ticking off names — Meadow Pollack from Friday, Joaquin Oliver from Saturday and Alaina Petty’s on Monday. Three more Tuesday, another Wednesday. It’s both difficult and cathartic, the girls said.
“It kind of helps but at the same time it makes me sad,” Sparrow said.
Stoneman Douglas senior Lewis Mizen said Monday he had never attended a funeral for someone his own age before the weekend. He will attend another Tuesday. When an older family member dies, he said, it seems natural that their children and grandchildren speak about their loss, but seeing parents eulogize their child cuts deep emotionally.
“Seeing a father freak out, I hope I never have to see something like that again,” Mizen said. “Right now, it all seems very surreal.”
The funerals have taken place in churches and synagogues, funeral homes and conference centers, all packed, sometimes with crowds topping 2,000. The last-arriving mourners have often been forced outside into the Florida heat, where they stand respectfully for an hour, straining to hear a snippet of the service.
Monday’s funeral for Petty, a 14-year-old freshman, was unique but also unfortunately too common in this grieving community. More than 1,500 mourners, most dressed in black, filed into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Coral Springs to remember the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps member. Family members spoke about how she enthusiastically joined other Mormon youth to help with cleanup efforts in September after Hurricane Irma, and of her love of dogs and her confidence and wit.
Her father Ryan Petty spoke about the support his family has received from their church, the community and from around the country and world.
“We could not get through this without the love, prayers and support offered,” he said. “We may never know all of the acts of kindness that have been rendered on our behalf this past week. We have witnessed hundreds in just the past few days but we know that is a small fraction of the total.”
Other fathers and mothers have said similar words in recent days, begging mourners to never forget their child and to treat each other with kindness.
The father of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack called out the 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz, the former Stoneman Douglas student who has admitted Wednesday’s killings, yelling, “You killed my daughter!” before calling him an obscenity. The mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, called on politicians to enact laws that will prevent future school massacres.
Siblings also have bared their loss. Petty’s older sister, Meghan Petty, talked about how Alaina will now be her guardian angel and that the shooting should not detract from the goodness that lives within the community.
“What happened to her is that it was a very, very ugly act that was committed by one person but as you look around at how many people who are here … there are thousands more who are doing something really beautiful for my sister,” Meghan Petty said.
Dr. Francisco Cruz, lead psychiatrist at Ketamine Health Centers, suggested some survivors may want to limit themselves to services for their close friends, but he said overexposure to news coverage and social media posts about the shooting may be more harmful than attending several funerals.
“Going through the funeral process and remembering your classmates and feeling support from friends and family and the community can be empowering,” Cruz said. “It can help people to get through these tough times and help them be more resilient down the line.”