Jaime Guttenberg’s heartbroken dad, Fred shared a list of ‘white ifs’ on the 4th anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
While some kids are exchanging valentines with classmates, there are certain students who had that opportunity taken from them. And while some parents are showering their children with treats and extra love today, others like Fred Guttenberg also had the chance stolen from them. On this day which many take for granted as a cheesy holiday all about love, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and took the lives of 17 people. At the same time, the 19-year-old shooter also swiftly robbed each of their parents of his or her greatest loves during this deadly mass school shooting.
It’s now been four years now since these families, classmates, and the community were forced to endure such heartbreak and in honor of his daughter 14-year-old Jaime’s death, Guttenberg took to Twitter with a powerful message. “Today is 4 years since your voice was silenced. It is now 4 years since I last heard your laugh, saw your smile, and kissed you goodbye,” he started the emotional thread. “It is now 4 years since I last had the typical parental worries about you and how your day was going?”
Guttenberg no longer has the luxury of wondering what types of things she was learning or whether she is happy or safe. That’s because those last questions were permanently answered: no, she wasn’t safe at school and died amid terrifying circumstances. Which has now made him rethink everything he had taught his daughter before her murder about asking “what if” questions instead of focusing on “what is” scenarios. “If you wanted to talk to me about something and ask me for something, you had to come prepared with substance and facts about what was happening in real time, not engage me in ‘what if,'” he wrote. “Jaime, I was wrong. For the past 4 years, I find myself asking ‘what if’ every minute of every day.”
Questions like these have haunted him every minute of every day since Valentine’s Day 2018:
What if you were sick that morning and we never sent you to school?
Would fate have intervened some other way or would you now be the beautiful 18 -year-old teenager living her best life at The University of Florida? What would your dorm room look like? Who would your roommate be? Would you have your first college boyfriend? Would you be studying to be a pediatric physical therapist as you had always planned?
Would you still be dancing?
What if your murder never happened and the past four years included new photos, new videos, and new memories with you?
What would you be like today? I know with certainty you would still be the energy and voice in every room that you stepped into.”
These are questions that countless parents take for granted not only being able to ask themselves but also have answered as they have the privilege of watching their child grow into the adult he or she were meant to be. But for the parents and families of school shooting victims, like Jaime’s dad and brother, all that remains is deafening silence in the place of answers. “What if a shooter never came to your school that day? What if a teenager or any other person with known risks was never able to acquire guns or ammunition to cause harm to others?” he asked. “What would our family be like now? What would our community be like now?”
Since Jaime’s death, her dad has worked tirelessly as an impassioned gun safety advocate, trying to prevent other families from going through this pain as well as protecting other students from the death his daughter endured. “What if every day now, my day still began by telling you how much I love you in person or on the phone, & not telling you while sitting at your graveside?” he wrote. “What if our day still included plans for your future, instead of sadness over what I will never experience with you?”
However, he noted that since our country never “genuinely and truly” prioritized life and reducing gun violence before February 14, 2018, he will never know. “What if the dominant thought in my head was still dreams of walking you down the aisle at your wedding and becoming a grandparent to your children? What if the dominant thought in my head was not images of your final minute before you were killed?” he asked. “What if the last thought in my head every day was not your FINAL seconds and wondering did you suffer? What if I did not have to go to bed every day hoping that you died instantly, out of fear that if you did not, that means you did suffer.”
Guttenberg also called out how just three weeks after Jaime’s murder, laws were passed that could have potentially saved her life. He wants to know whether if Florida had seen the value in these laws — before February 14, 2018 — would they have been enough to prevent her death or any of the other shootings that haven stolen lives.
“Would you yourself be a gun safety activist or some other type of activist? What if you were not buried in a cemetery and still alive, because of the effort’s others could have taken before,” he wondered. “What if America understood before you were killed, or even today, that reducing gun violence is a public health issue and not a second amendment issue? What if because of that instead of becoming a symbol for the failure of America to protect life, fate had intervened in a different way, and made you a fighter for others?”
But unfortunately, it seems clear to him that America still hasn’t learned from prior mistakes nor has it prioritized life and the reduction of gun violence. Which means, he will not be the last heartbroken parent wishing he or she had answers to this questions. “How many parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends, and communities could be saved from needing to wonder what if?” he wrote. “What if we could all agree on a way to move America forward to being a society where we can again send our kids to school without active shooter drills or fears of being shot, or to a movie, or to a mall, or to a place of worship?”
If society came together and agreed that our kids deserved better than this, and communities came together to change course now, he believes that current students can get the one thing that the fully deserve — and the Parkland victims never experienced: the chance to grow up in an America that genuinely and truly values life.
“It is never too late to change from ‘what if’ to ‘what is’ and finally do something about gun violence,” he added. “Doing so now may save the life of the person you love, so that you don’t spend the rest of your life wondering what if?”