Gina Montalto never had a chance to grow old, but she was remembered Thursday as patient, kind and “mature beyond her years” by a man who watched her grow into her role as a community volunteer.
Which was why, after sending a text to Montalto’s mother and posting a tribute on his Facebook page, Jeb Niewood sighed deeply as he spoke of Gina’s death Wednesday in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“It’s beyond tragic,” Niewood said. “It’s completely unnatural.”
Montalto, 14, was one of 14 students and three adults killed when a gunman attacked the Parkland school. Among them: A beloved coach who used his body to shield students. An 18-year-old with plans to go to Lynn University. A girl who loved to dance and pose with her dog. A teacher who sacrificed everything.
Some of the teenagers showed early on how much they could contribute.
Niewood first met Montalto about two years ago, when she was still in middle school and volunteering for The Friendship Initiative, a charity group he runs that connects student volunteers to children with special needs. Niewood immediately noticed she was different from other children.
She had patience rare for students her age, he said, adding her volunteer work wasn’t just a hobby.
“She just immediately took to the kids she was working with,” Niewood said, his voice breaking. “She was a tremendous friend to them.”
The bone-chilling list of the dead, read aloud Thursday at a news conference by Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, added to the enormity of the suffering behind the number — 17 — that had galvanized the nation since images of fleeing high school students dominated news coverage Wednesday afternoon.
Aaron Feis, 37
Aaron Feis, a security guard and assistant football coach, known for helping his students.
“He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories,” a Twitter account from the school’s football team said.
Feis graduated from the school in 1999 and turned down opportunities to coach elsewhere.
“He covered kids and took the gunshots for them,” junior Olivia Prochilo said. “And that’s all you could ask of teachers.”
Dianjelo Amaya, 17, a junior at Douglas High who played cornerback and receiver for the football team, called Feis “a great person and “a funny guy.”
Asked about Feis’ final brave act, Amaya said, “I’m not surprised. That’s what he would do. He’s that type of person. Save people? That’s what he would do.”
Meadow Pollack, 18
Meadow Pollack’s father dialed her over and over, hoping to get the student on her phone Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, he confirmed her death.
On Facebook, Meadow had shared a photo on Facebook of her and her grandmother, Evelyn Silverberg Pollack, embracing. “Nothing makes me happier than my grandma and her smile,” she wrote.
Pollack planned to attend Lynn University. An aunt who did not want to give her name called Meadow “the light of our life.”
“She was beautiful. We all loved her. She had a big family that loved her,” the aunt said.
Jaime Guttenberg, 14
Jaime Guttenberg’s death already has spawned a “Remember Jaime Guttenberg” Facebook page that included photos of the student performing in dance recitals and posing with her fluffy white dog.
Her father, Fred Guttenberg, wrote on Facebook Thursday, “My heart is broken.”
“Yesterday, Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school. We lost our daughter and my son Jesse Guttenberg lost his sister. I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family gets through this.”
Jaime’s brother Jesse also was a student at Douglas. He was unharmed.
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14
Alyssa Alhadeff’s mother asked that people do something fabulous in the name of her daughter.
“Alyssa was a talented soccer player, so smart, an amazing personality, incredible creative writer, and all she had to offer the world was love. She believed in people for being so honest,” Lori Alhadeff wrote.
Her soccer team also offered condolences.
"Alyssa Alhadeff was a loved and well respected member of our club and community," Parkland Travel Soccer said on Facebook. "Alyssa will be greatly missed."
Alyssa attended Camp Coleman, a Jewish sleepaway summer camp in Georgia.
"On behalf of the entire Coleman community, we offer heartfelt condolences and prayers for comfort to Alyssa's family and friends. May Alyssa's memory forever be for a blessing," the camp said on Facebook.
Scott Beigel, 35
Scott Beigel, a geography teacher, was shot trying to put a locked door between fleeing students and the gunman.
Kelcey Friend, 16, said Beigel “is the strongest person I will ever know.” He was killed while attempting to keep the attacker out of a classroom and was shot while attempting to close the classroom door. “He will never leave my memory.”
Friend said if not for Beigel “I wouldn’t be here. I would be in a hospital or dead.” The teenager said the gunman may have thought there was no one else in the classroom after shooting Beigel. Kids hid in the classroom for an unknown time. “It felt like an eternity,” Friend said.
Beigel also was a counselor at Camp Starlight, a summertime sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania.
Nicholas Dworet, 17
Nicholas Dworet, a senior, earned an academic scholarship to the University of Indianapolis and planned to join the school’s swim team in the fall, the Indianapolis Star reported.
Dworet was a middling swimmer two years ago, but he improved dramatically, his coach said.
“I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart, he just took his life in his hands and he chiseled and molded his life,” said Andre Bailey, coach of TS Aquatics in Broward County. “This kid went from being listless and going through the motions to planning ahead and organizing his life.”
As a 12-year-old, Dworet was named swimmer of the month for his performances in the 50-meter freestyle at Coral Springs Swim Club, according to the club’s website.
Alaina Petty, 14
When student Alaina Petty was thought missing Wednesday, her sister-in-law, Sofia Petty Tarin, wrote about it on Facebook. “Just always please never take the ones you love for granted,” followed by a broken-heart emoji. On Thursday, she wrote that she had found out Alaina had been killed, and asked for both prayers and privacy.
Alaina’s family released the following statement:
“Alaina was a vibrant and determined young woman, loved by all who knew her. Alaina loved to serve. She served her community through her participation in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas JROTC program and her countless hours of service as a volunteer for the Helping Hands program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Alaina was part of hundreds of volunteers that rushed to the most heavily impacted areas of Florida to clean up and help rebuild the lives of those devastated by Hurricane Irma. Her selfless service brought peace and joy to those that had lost everything during the storm.”
Martin Duque Anguinao, 14
Martin Duque Anguiano’s brother started a GoFundMe account to raise money for the teen’s funeral. “He was a very funny kid, outgoing and sometimes really quiet,” his brother, Miguel, wrote. “He was sweet and caring and loved by all his family. Most of all he, was my baby brother. My family and I have no words to describe the event that has happened.”
Carmen Schentrup, 16
Carmen Schentrup was a stellar student and a piano player. She was one of 10 Douglas students named finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program, the school newspaper reported in September.
Alex Schachter, 14
Alex Schachter played trombone in the Douglas marching band, his father told The New York Times. The boy’s older brother was also a student at the school and survived the shooting. Their mother died when Alex was 5.
Luke Hoyer, 15
An avid basketball player, Luke had sprouted to 6-foot-2, his grandmother told the Washington Post. He was a devoted fan of Clemson University and hoped to join Douglas High’s football team in the fall.
“This has devastated our family and we’re all in shock and disbelief. Our hearts are broken. Luke was a beautiful human being and greatly loved,” Luke Hoyer’s uncle, Toni Brownlee, wrote on Facebook. “Also, pray for the other families whose loved were also murdered so cruelly.”
Joaquín Oliver, 17
The death of Joaquín Oliver, a Venezuelan student, was reported by Univision’s Maria Alesia Sosa, who said it was one of the most painful stories she has worked on.
An old friend, Alejandro Marin, told The Palm Beach Post that Oliver was a great kid who loved family and friends, putting them first. “He was just a super funny kid who always lightened up the mood for everyone,” he said.
Marin turned to Facebook on Thursday to share the memories.
“Yesterday at the Douglas High School shooting, we lost a very good family friend, a cousin, a brother,” Marin wrote. “The memories you have given my brother and I are times I will always be grateful for. Our battles in 2k, our basketball matches, Thanksgiving dinners, you’re smile and the love you gave us will stay with me forever. You mean so much to us Joaquín Oliver. The world will never be the same without you buddy. Eres mi ángel volando sobre mí. Te Quiero Primo. Rest in peace Brother.”
Cara Loughran, 14
Cara Loughran was remembered by a cousin, Vanessa Allen, on Facebook: “She was the sweetest little girl in the entire world and we are completely devastated.”
She was a member of the Drake School of Irish Dance, according to IrishCentral.com.
Cara Loughran was a freshman at Marjory Stoneman High School. Now her friends and neighbors are vowing to always celebrate her beautiful life.— Everytown (@Everytown) February 16, 2018
Remember the victims, NOT the shooter. #NoNotoriety pic.twitter.com/Bvr1j6SaYR
Chris Hixon, 49
Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director, had been deployed to Iraq as a Navy reservist in 2007. One of his former students at another school, Veronica Sitaras, began a GoFundMe account for the Hixon family.
His widow, Debra Hixon, told CNN that Hixon would give students rides or lunch money and, if they needed it, open up his home to them. "He just loved being around kids and giving back to the community," Debra Hixon said.
A Naval reservist, Chris Hixon deployed to Iraq in 2007.
"He loved being an American and serving his country and he instilled that in our kids," she said.
Hixon was also the school's wrestling coach. Before moving to Douglas High, Hixon was athletic director at South Broward High School.
“I’m trying to do what I can for a family that did so much for me as an athlete and student,” Sitaras wrote.
Peter Wang, 15
Peter Wang was in the school’s ROTC program. His cousin told the Sun-Sentinel he was born in Brooklyn and was wearing a gray ROTC shirt Wednesday. She said a friend told her he held a door to let other students out before him, the paper reported.
Helena Ramsay, 17
Family members praised student Helena Ramsay.
Curtis Page Jr., whose Facebook page shows a West Palm Beach address, recalled “the beauty that can be found in a life well lived, no matter how short; and so that the impact of her life would be amplified beyond that of which any psychopath could succeed in stifling.”
He wrote, “Helena was a smart, kind-hearted, and thoughtful person. She was deeply loved and loved others even more so. Though she was somewhat reserved, she had a relentless motivation towards her academic studies, and her soft warm demeanor brought the best out in all who knew her. She was so brilliant and witty, and I’m still wrestling with the idea that she is actually gone. She would have started college next year.”
Staff researcher Melanie Mena and staff writers Jorge Milian, Lulu Ramadan, Alexandra Seltzer, Eliot Kleinberg and Jodie Wagner contributed to this story.