PARKLAND, Fla. — 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 Kupferman, also 17, began ticking off names — Meadow Pollack from Friday, Joaquin Oliver from Saturday and Alaina Petty's on Monday. Three more today, 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 today. 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."
Monday was President’s Day, and students from Diller-Odell High School got to spend the day with a former U.S. president.
The students got a chance to ask questions of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during a presentation streamed live at the Homestead National Monument of America from the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Ga.
Carter had planned to bring his wife along for the annual presentation, but Rosalynn Carter was unable to attend, due to a surgery she had to repair scar tissue on her small intestine. The scar tissue was the result of a procedure to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor that took place about 50 years ago, Carter said.
Doctors operated on Saturday night and found that the scar tissue had strangled almost two feet of her small intestine, Carter said. Doctors told him that it wouldn’t be a problem for a woman in her 60s, but Rosalynn is 90 and Carter was distressed about the operation.
“I was deathly afraid,” Carter said. “I prayed for three hours.”
Around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, the surgeon told him that everything had worked out, but she would have to remain in the hospital for another week.
The 93-year-old Carter was scheduled to begin the presentation at 11 a.m., but began just a few minutes before, taking time to discuss the Department of Education—which Carter advocated for during his presidency and signed into law in 1979. He also reflected on the women’s movement and how the role of president has changed with the advent of social media.
Carter also carved out some time for students from Diller-Odell to ask him a few questions, though the opportunity was nearly missed when technical issues briefly made it appear that the Homestead’s Distance Learning Portal had stopped working. At the very last minute, park rangers Susan Cook and Ramon Mangual were able to get the system up and running, and the students were allowed to ask their questions.
Senior Austin Cook asked Carter what the most difficult thing about being president was.
Trying to keep the peace was the hardest part of his presidency, Carter said. There were many challenges to peace during his time in office, he said, just as there are now for Donald Trump and those who came before him. Since leaving office, Carter said the U.S. has gone to war 30 times, leading the American people to believe that going to war is acceptable.
America has gained a reputation of being the most warlike country on Earth, Carter said, and compared to other nations that haven’t gone to war, the U.S. has spent trillions of dollars that could have been used on other things, like infrastructure.
“For instance, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has probably spent $6 trillion,” Carter said. “We now are $21 trillion in debt, our country is. The average amount the federal government spends for everything in an entire year is about $4 trillion.”
Countries like China, that haven’t gone to war, have been able to build up their infrastructure, Carter said, and China, for example, has built 14,000 miles of high speed railroad that can transport people at speeds up to 200 miles an hour, as well as roads, seaports and universities.
“I've given you a long answer, but I'd say the most difficult thing for me when I was president was to keep the peace and to try to set an example for other presidents to keep the peace, which we have not yet done,” Carter said. “I think, eventually though, we're going to have to learn how to live with each other as a next step in human evolution.”
Next, senior Ashlen Vanover asked Carter what made him decide to go into politics.
Carter said he didn’t get into politics until he was 38 years old. He got his start serving on a county school board in Georgia, to which he was appointed by a grand jury. He ran for state senate, then ran for governor and then for the presidency.
“When I was serving in state senate, I just wanted to help preserve and protect the public school system,” Carter said. “That was the reason I went into politics to begin with.”
Carter said his time in politics expanded his knowledge of problems and how to solve them.
The students from Diller-Odell were joined electronically by students from schools in Custer, S.D. in the Black Hills, as well as Topeka, Kan. at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and Skagway, Alaska.
It was a unique opportunity to be able to ask questions of a former president, Cook told the Diller-Odell students.
“As you guys learn and grow up, you will be making our choices, you'll be our congressmen, our senators, our governors,” Cook said. “That's why we want you to have opportunities like this to learn from people like Jimmy Carter on what he experienced, what he was using as his guiding principles, to help you in no matter what you're doing in your life.”
Asked by a student in the crowd which was a more incredible experience: winning the presidency in 1976 or winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, Carter said that both of those milestones were very happy ones in his life, though both had been topped very recently.
“The only other time I remember when I was that happy was when the doctor came in Sunday morning and told me that my wife was alive," Carter said.
The owners of C & C Specialty Market announced via social media this past weekend that the Beatrice store will be permanently closing in April.
Chad and Courtney Lottman, who also own C & C Processing and Landmark Snacks, said they made the decision to close the retail store in Beatrice to focus on their original retail location in Diller and the continued growth of their production facilities.
The Beatrice store is tentatively scheduled to close on April 6, Chad Lottman said. The closure will affect one full-time and two part-time employees at the store, but Lottman said the employees will have the opportunity to work at the company’s other locations.
The Lottmans have production facilities in Diller and in Beatrice. Landmark Snacks produces multiple products for a national brand called Epic, which sells meat bars and jerky.
“More than anything, it's been a change in our business focus over the last few years,” Lottman said. “As such, with Landmark Snacks here in Beatrice, our primary business focus is on our production facilities. Due to that, the focus has been lowered on retail. The last thing we want is for our quality in our retail service to go down.”
Lottman said that the Diller facility that has always made the retail products available at C & C in Beatrice will still continue to make the products for their retail space in Diller.
While the shop didn’t get quite as much business as they’d have liked, Lottman said that the closure was largely due to the growing focus of their production facilities on the production of products for other customers. Landmark Snacks, for example, now employs upwards of 60 people, he said.
In a Feb. 16 Facebook post, they thanked their longtime customers who have supported the Beatrice location, and noted that they will still serve customers and honor gift cards at the retail location in Diller.
C & C Specialty Market opened in Beatrice in 2010. Located at 2312 N. Sixth St., the store offered a variety of meats, cheeses, specialty foods, wines and beers.