Gina Montalto lost her life five years ago during the Majory Stoneman Douglas school shooting.
Her father, Tony, said on Tuesday during the five-year memorial of the event that she was loving, caring, kind and compassionate. She was a straight-A student, a girl scout, and a member of the color guard where she helped the marching band win the 2017 Florida marching band championship.
He said no one could ever heal from losing a child.
“We do find a way to work around the pain, but there’s always a hole in your heart,” Montalto said.
He said after the tragedy, families affected founded Stand with Parkland, a national association of families for safe schools.
The Florida Legislature subsequently passed at least one school safety-related bill in each of the past five years. One includes the “Parents Need to Know Initiative.”
The initiative is a part of the School Safety Bill. Passed in 2021, the law requires Florida schools to notify parents promptly of threats to the school and related events.
“We created this group, which is uniquely inclusive and nonpartisan, for people on both sides of the aisle,” Montalto said. “I’m not interested in what we can’t do, but finding what we can do.”
Montalto has dedicated his time to the Gina Rose Montalto Memorial Foundation and Parkland 17 Memorial Foundation.
The Gina Rose Montalto Foundation was founded to remember her life and help others achieve their goals. One of those goals includes providing scholarships for those interested in the arts, nursing, technology and the girl scouts.
The Parkland 17 Memorial Foundation aims to design, build and maintain a memorial to the victims who lost their lives.
On Tuesday night, a vigil was held at Pine Trails park. The community members honored the victims with a display of the 17 teachers and students
Parkland Mayor Rich Walker said the community still heals and helps others five years later. However, he feels it’s difficult when it’s become a recurring issue in America.
Walker alluded to the Michigan State University shooting on Monday night where three people died and five were injured.
“It’s a reminder of what can happen and how this becomes more often than not that these types of situations,” Walker said.
Walker knew the Montalto family when he moved to parkland eight years ago. He’s very proud and inspired by Tony and his wife, Jennifer for taking the tragedy and making positive change in memory of Gina.
“From my perspective as a friend to watch the things they’re doing is, is such an honor,” Walker said. “I don’t know if that’s something I could do if I were in their shoes.”
Elected in 2020, he said one of his priorities was to ensure everyone’s mental health is “ok” and know that no one should feel left alone. He’s said it’s been an honor to be part of this and see his community stay resilient and strong.
“Seeing a community to just decide positive change is, what we want and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen,” Walker said.
On Tuesday, the Broward County Public School system honored the victims as “A Day of Service and Love in commemoration of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy.”
Across the county, Tuesday was an early release day for students, staff and volunteers. The purpose was to build positive relationships and express kindness while raising awareness about significant and meaningful causes.
At Plantation Middle School, Principal Tariq Qaiyim said it hosted a continental breakfast for the first responders and city of Plantation officials. He said the event was a way to create a legacy and have something positive come from such a tragic event is important.
Before his principalship at Plantation Middle School, he served as an administrator at MSD for over two years during the tragedy.
“It was a unique experience. I was able to empathize with the event firsthand, dealing with some of the survivors on the campus.
He said the one thing he’s learned from this experience is that “tomorrow’s not promised.”
“It’s important to be the best that you can at the moment and be present, with those that are around you,” Qaiyim said. “It’s never too early or too late to be kind to everyone.”
Dr. Valerie Wanza, associate superintendent at Broward County Public Schools, read the names of the lives lost over the school intercom in Principal Errol Evan’s office in Silver Lakes Middle School at 10:17 am.
“We also acknowledge the resiliency and strength of our families’, students, employees, first responders, volunteers, community partners, and government officials,” Wanza said. “At this time, we pause to honor those we love by remembering their names.”
After reading the moment of reflection, the school gathered for a ceremony. With a “peace-themed mural”, students created a heart display in memory of the victims. A short ceremony was held where school officials and students spoke. Ending with a student reading the names of each life lost, two students held a candle and walked side by side, with a bell ringing.