The Florida school shooting that gripped the nation on Wednesday was especially traumatizing for the local Parkland community, a great number of whom are Jewish. As police revealed that 17 people had, sadly, been killed, it transpired that some of the victims were Jewish as well.
In a conversation with Hamodia on Thursday, Rabbi Shuey Biston, outreach and programming director at Chabad of Parkland, recounted yesterday’s harrowing events.
“I got a phone call about the shooting shortly after it happened,” said Rabbi Biston. “Chabad of Parkland is actually the regional headquarters for Chabad of North Broward and South Palm Beach, and is located five minutes away from the school, so immediately upon receiving the call I hurried over to the school grounds, and I witnessed the emergency vehicles rushing to the scene.
“Kids began pouring out of the school campus, crying and screaming, and in fact between 200-300 of the Jewish students there have had their bar or bat mitzvah at Chabad, so when the kids saw me and my brother-in-law, Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, the educational director at our center, they came running to us, hugging and crying in face of the horror, as frantic parents began arriving in search of their children amid the mass chaos.”
Rabbi Biston notes that there is one girl, who’d had her bat mitzvah at Chabad, whose two friends on either side of her were shot, yet she miraculously escaped unscathed.
After the school’s evacuation was completed, Rabbi Biston and Rabbi Gutnick were left to contend with the heartbroken parents whose children were as of yet unaccounted for. They received reports of four Jewish children, one of whom attended Chabad and the others known to them through family and friends, who were missing.
Rabbi Biston also serves as the chaplain at the Broward County sheriff’s office, and he used his connections to help the parents in their attempt to locate their children among the injured in the hospital, though if a child could not be located outside the school or in the hospital, it sadly meant that the remaining option was that they were part of the crime scene.
Families and friends congregated at a local hotel, and at about 1 a.m. families began being summoned one by one and had the terrible news broken to them. When the Jewish families were called, the Rabbis were at their side, there for them through their cries of grief. The Jewish victims were students Alyssa Alhadeff, who was affiliated with Chabad, Jaime Guttenberg, Meadow Pollack, Alex Schachter and Mr. Scott Beigel, a geography teacher who closed a door as he was shot, saving students’ lives.
Rabbi Biston then worked with Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, who is also a member at Chabad, to ensure that kvod hameis was preserved and there are in fact two funerals scheduled for Friday. Money is currently being raised to help with the funeral expenses: https://thechesedfund.com/cause/funeral-cost-florida-tragedy.