The night before Valentine’s Day while her fiance showered, Gwen Gossler snuck into his car and placed a handmade card on the dashboard for him to find the next morning.
In the valentine, made with pink construction paper and decorated with hearts, Gossler told Scott Beigel she loves him and that he is her favorite person.
The couple had made plans for that night that would come after a day of teaching — Beigel at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland and Gossler at Palm Beach Maritime Academy in Lantana — to make chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert. Beigel said he would pick everything up and bring it to their Deerfield Beach home.
But that afternoon, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz ended all the couple’s plans — forever. Cruz, according to reports, went on a shooting rampage using a semiautomatic rifle and shot Beigel after the teacher opened his classroom door for students.
Cruz has since admitted to shooting 35-year-old Beigel, two other adults and 14 students.
“Scott is now known to the world as a hero, for his actions that day, but he was a hero to many before,” Gossler, who left the country seeking some solace, told The Palm Beach Post via Facebook messages.
Beigel never mentioned the Valentine’s Day card to Gossler but she knows he saw it.
When she was finally able to see his Honda Civic, she spotted it not where she placed it, but in the center console.
Gossler later decided to place the card in Beigel’s coffin, along with other letters she’s written to him over the years.
“I just wanted him to be with the last real communication we had, as well as the message of him being my favorite person,” she said.
A romance sparks at summer camp
Gossler is an art teacher at Palm Beach Maritime. School officials didn’t make a public announcement about her loss; they didn’t feel it was their place, said Principal Reno Boffice. But Gossler has since asked Boffice to have guidance counselors speak to her students and she will briefly continue the discussion when she returns, which she is expected to after this week’s spring break.
“The students love her,” Assistant Principal Chris Skierski said.
On Wednesday, National Walkout Day, the Maritime students held up signs and some wrote letters that were buried in a time capsule in a nearby field.
Like many schools since the shooting, Maritime has held mock lockdowns and evacuations with help from Lantana police.
Gossler’s school family is looking forward to her return.
Beigel and Gossler met at Camp Starlight, a summer camp in Pennsylvania. One summer he joked to a mutual friend that he and Gossler were dating. Gossler went along with it, and one night he told her he wasn’t joking and that he would make her fall in love with him.
The two had a long-distance relationship for five years — he lived in Florida and she in Seattle. Gossler moved down about two years ago and she calls it the best decision she ever made.
“We just worked,” she said.
Words remembered: An eerie foreshadowing
Beigel got a position in the fall teaching ninth-grade geography and 10th-grade world history honors at Stoneman Douglas.
Gossler said Beigel had a hard time finding his rhythm at the new school.
“Some days he would come home tired and upset because he felt as if he didn’t do a great job, and I say great because a good job wasn’t enough for him,” Gossler said. “He had large classes and he wasn’t going to be happy unless every student was engaged. He would spend hours trying to come up with fun, engaging lessons that the students would want to participate in. He was learning to love it, and that’s why it kills me so much that his life was taken when it was.”
Beigel looked forward to next year when he would have his curriculum sorted out and would coach cross-country again.
And, he looked forward to his future with his fiance, she said.
Jason Glick, a life-long friend of Beigel’s, told stories about Beigel at the funeral, mentioning that Beigel had told him that the best times of his life were ahead of him.
Beigel’s friends and family said his dry sense of humor made him stand out from others and complimented him for his one-of-a-kind sarcasm. Last October Beigel and Gossler were watching television coverage of “another senseless tragedy,” she said, and he told her that if something like that happens to him, he wants her to be honest and tell the world about how he was a jerk, not a hero.
But he is.
“He has touched the lives of thousands of campers and staff at Camp Starlight, and the lives of many students and staff at the several schools he taught at over the past five years,” Gossler said. “He was too humble to really acknowledge what he meant to others. I know he knew how much I loved him, but he was loved by the thousands.”
Shot in the doorway protecting students
Students in Beigel’s geography class hid under desks after they heard gunfire, according to media reports. Beigel closed the door and then reopened it to allow more students inside.
Student Mia Sanchez told media outlets Beigel stood at the doorway and yelled in the direction of Cruz that no one was in the classroom. Then she saw Beigel get shot, but not the students.
Gossler knew something had happened when her phone started to light up with calls from her fiance’s parents. She was teaching a class.
“I saw a message about a possible shooting at MSD so I Googled it,” she said. “When I saw it was true I immediately left to head home. I tried calling him, texting him, telling him to let me know he was okay, because there was just no way that he could have been hurt.
“This kind of thing only happens on the news. As the hours passed by and I still hadn’t heard from him I started to lose hope.”
She went to a hospital. Then to the Marriott hotel where authorities were gathering friends and family. Around 1 a.m. she was pulled into a private room.
Since that day, she’s had a birthday, gotten a tattoo in memory of her fiance and went on a vacation with a friend for a change of pace.
But she’s still struggling.
“I still can’t believe he is gone from my life, from this world. It just doesn’t make sense. It often still feels as if I’m in a dream that I’ll wake up from and he’s still here. But he’s not, instead I’m in some alternate reality where he’s gone and everything is different,” she said.