One year later, a father, a teacher and a student reflect on the day that changed them forever.
By Grace King and Meredith Sheldon
They hid. They lost. They marched. They fought.
And now, they remember.
They remember the sounds of the bullets piercing through the walls of their English classroom. And the blood and tears that flooded the hallways.
They remember, too, the fear and the pain of losing 17 of their own.
For the Parkland community, February 14, a day reserved for love, is one riddled with sorrow; Valentine’s Day tainted by tragedy.
The Father: Andrew Pollack
Andrew Pollack kicks back in a white folding chair outside his Eagle Cap camper parked on an empty lot near the temple he attends in Coral Springs. He owns a silver 4×4 pickup and a small trailer.
This is home now for Pollack. He traded his suburban house for the mobile home after his daughter, Meadow, was killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
“We miss her. There is not a second that goes by that I don’t miss her,” Pollack says.
Meadow was shot nine times. She died huddled arm-in-arm with student Cara Loughran, 14, outside of a locked bathroom door on the third floor of Building 12.
Meadow was Pollack’s little girl; his princess.
“Meadow was a fighter,” he says. “She was most like myself.”
Pollack throws a tennis ball for his two-year-old Belgian Malinois. Sonny darts across the untrimmed field to fetch.
After Meadow died, Pollack channeled his anger and grief into a fight for change. His main goal: school safety reform.
“I want a safe environment for teachers and students in the whole state,” he says. “What good is an education if your kids don’t come home at the end of the day?”
In the past year, he’s met with President Trump, helped pass school safety legislation through the Florida statehouse, helped pass a Senate bill to raise the age to buy a gun to 21 and researched the facts and failures of what went wrong at the school the day of the shooting.
What good is an education if your kids don’t come home at the end of the day?
He fights now at the local level trying to implement new policies to keep kids safe inside school halls.
“This is ground zero where we are at,” he says. “We are in a fight right now still. These parents should be grieving and moving on with their lives.”
Meadow’s life ended at 18. She was supposed to attend Lynn University this year. Her dream was to become a lawyer.
The Teacher: Dara Hass
At the Hass household, Saturdays are the “out-of-control” days.
Riley is only 5 and is dressed in bright pajamas as she races around the house, dodging Barbie dolls and stuffed animals strewn across the floor. Her younger sister, 3-year-old Olivia, is following closely behind.
“My house is kid-friendly,” says Dara Hass, with a chuckle as she looks around. The smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls lingers.
Dara’s daughters try on various accessories. Olivia picks up a pair of sparkly lavender slippers — a few sizes too big — and attempts to make them stay on her feet. Riley puts on a Wonder Woman mask. Her face lights up with immediate joy as she bounces up and down.
It’s the moments like these that help Dara cope with the events of a year ago – at least, for a bit.
“It’s something that will always, always be in my mind,” she says. “It’ll haunt me.”
Dara, an English teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was grading literary fair entries when the first shots rang out.
“We heard the boom boom boom… I thought it was a drill,” she says.
As she began following lockdown procedures, her students started tugging on her dress and screaming.
“It’s so realistic,” Dara told her students.
Then it hit her: this wasn’t a drill. Someone was shooting through the door and into her beloved classroom, No. 1216.
It’s something that will always, always be in my mind. It will haunt me.
She had always felt safe at the school. She thought of it as a big family filled with love.
“The kids, t
hey loved being there and they loved seeing their friends. They loved the teachers,” Dara says.
But that day a year ago shattered everything. After the carnage, Dara heard the sounds of the bullets over and over again. She saw the blood on the floor long after it was cleaned up and the fear in her students’ eyes.
For the first week after the shooting, she cried in her sleep and woke up hysterical.
She began going to therapy two or three times a week to help cope. Over the summer, she spent four days doing intense traumatic therapy at an overnight treatment center.
Now, she only goes once a week. The triggers that once set off traumatic memories are becoming fewer.
“For a while, if anyone went like “shhhhh,” that would get me very nervous because I would remember when we were all saying you know “shhh,” like around the room,” Dara says. “I learned to ground myself and kind of stay in the moment and not get lost.”
Dara says she wants to see America invest more in mental health resources. She believes the nation ought to reevaluate gun ownership policies and boost school security.
Those are things left to lawmakers. For her part, Dara walks into her classroom every day and infuses love into her lessons.
“I have the same sense of safety as I do everywhere,” Dara says, as she lists the places she’s heard about shootings: grocery stores, concerts, elementary schools.
The last one concerns her the most.
Her little girl, Riley, just started in kindergarten. Even though Riley is too young to understand the horrors her mom went through, Dara says making sure her daughter is prepared and safe is her biggest priority.
“Tell me about the Code Red drills you do at school,” she says to her oldest daughter.
Riley knows the drill. First, her kindergarten class walks into the bathroom and goes “smush smush together” to fit, she says.
Sometimes she’s stuck near the toilet, where she huddles in silence with 18 of her classmates until they get the all-clear.
Riley says Code Red drills are scary. But they bring relief for Dara. At least her daughter has a safe place to hide.
“It’s hard dropping her off because even elementary schools aren’t immune to it,” Dara says.
She met with her daughter’s principal and teachers before the term started to learn about the safety procedures in place.
“That kind of gives me that sense of, ‘OK, we can do this,’” Dara says. “You just need to push through and hope for the best in people that it won’t happen again.”
Dara survived tragedy. She will always carry terrifying memories
“That’s just something that I have to live with and I have to accept,” she says.
But she refuses to let the memories of last February keep her from living her life.
The Student: Liz Stout
Liz Stout surveys the wall above her dorm room desk.
There hangs a maroon Varsity Cheerleading Letter, a MSD Strong painting and a University of Florida Spring schedule. And little pamphlets published for the funerals of friends she will never see again.
Alex Schachter. Carmen Schentrup. Joaquin Oliver.
“I knew Joaquin. He was hilarious, super energetic, had a million friends,” she says looking at his photo. A smile breaks her lips.
During a Powderpuff football game, she joked with her 17-year-old classmate.
“I remember I’d be like, ‘Joaquin, you go!’ and he would be like, ‘You know it Liz,’” she recalls.
She tries to remember the good times to snuff out the bad. The bullets flew through her classroom door.
“We were actually taking off our clothes and wrapping kids to try to stop their bleeding,” she says.
Liz watched in horror as classmates took their last breaths.
Carmen Schentrup was a good friend. She was smart, Liz says. Had only AP classes throughout high school.
“She was a genius,” Liz says.
Liz couldn’t finish her final year at Douglas. She couldn’t even walk on campus. There were reminders everywhere.
“That was a place where I grew up and found my confidence and found my friends.”
She left Parkland for Gainesville, where she began a new life at the university. But the terror followed her. She’s always alert to who’s entering a building; what people are carrying. She’s suspicious of strangers. And even though a year has passed, the shooting at her high school remains fresh.
“I think about the shooting every day.”
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