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Candlelight vigil remembers victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

More than 120 Stetson students gathered on the steps of the Carlton Union Building Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil honoring the victims of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Photos by Nicholas Fuller

Four of the Stetson students were graduates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland: freshmen Aviva Edrich, Karina Miranda and Rachael Ryan, and sophomore Kaitie Taubenkimel. All but Taubenkimel said they knew some of the victims.

Edrich, who organized the vigil and was the first speaker to address the crowd, said she learned of the shooting when a friend texted her the news. She immediately texted her brother, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who responded he was safe. Edrich turned on the TV news.

“I was shaking at that point – I was in shock,” she told those gathered for the vigil, which also included Stetson’s three chaplains — Rev. Christy Correll-Hughes, Sensei Morris Sekiyo Sullivan and Rev. Willie Barnes Jr. – as well as SGA President Alyssa Morley, Assistant Director of Interfaith Initiatives Lindsey Graves and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Cecil Chik.

“I felt my heart break even more when I found out how big the situation was,” Edrich added. “The next part was the scariest – waiting to see who didn’t make it.”

Aviva Edrich stands on the stairs of the CUB addressing students at the vigil

Aviva Edrich, who organized the vigil, speaks to the crowd outside the CUB on Wednesday night.

Later that night her mom called to tell her that family friend Jaime Guttenberg had been killed in the shooting.

“It saddens me every day to know those 17 victims will never be able to go on and do big things in the future, to make a change,” Edrich said. “It saddens me to know that my little city Parkland will be thought of as the city where 17 people were shot and killed. It saddens me to know that we live in a world with such hate.”

But she added she is “extremely proud of everything” the surviving students “are doing to get their voices heard so something like this will never happen again.”

She then referenced the #NeverAgain movement founded by those students as she said: “Hashtag NeverAgain will anyone have to fear for their lives in a place where students are supposed to be safe and learn. Hashtag NeverAgain will a parent see their child for the last time when dropping them off at school. Hashtag NeverAgain will a parent have to question if they told their child they loved them that morning. Hashtag NeverAgain will children have to hide in closets fearing for their lives. We are hashtag MSDStrong and I will always be positive, passionate and proud to be an Eagle.”

Morley then addressed the crowd, saying, “In these moments, there are no right steps to grieving. … Fortunately, as the turn out here displays, we do have the ability to turn to our community for support. We often don’t understand the power of community until we find a need for it, until something tragic occurs.

“Offer support however you see fit, be it by writing a kind word to these students, by offering a prayer, by accompanying a friend to a service, by participating in important dialogue, by peaceful protest or writing to your senator. Support the students at Stoneman Douglas and students across the country in positive and thoughtful ways. No act of kindness is too small.”

Sensei Sullivan delivered a litany “for those lost and their loved ones.” Rev. Barnes read the name of each victim as Sullivan rang a bell-like singing bowl and Edrich, Miranda and Taubenkimel lit 17 candles on a table.

Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer, who lives in DeLand but serves at a temple in Orlando, recited the mourner’s kaddish, “an ancient Aramaic prayer which never once mentions death, but yet extols the name of God and reminds us and all who are bereaved that those difficult days of walking forward back into life will be met with the comfort of community and family.”

She recited the kaddish in Hebrew, then English: “May these 17 beautiful souls, may their memory be for us a blessing, and may we never let the light of their love grow dim in our hearts.”

She then sang the traditional Jewish memorial chant, the Kel Maleh Rachamim (“God Full of Compassion”).

Rev. Correll-Hughes told the story of how Ben Franklin began lighting a lantern nightly at his Philadelphia home, and soon his neighbors and other city residents took up the practice “and it was not long before the entire City of Brotherly Love was illuminated.”

That became Correll-Hughes’ metaphor: “If we wish to establish peace in this world, we must first establish it in our own souls and express it in our daily life. In this way we become points of light which, when gathered together, will become a beacon illuminating the entire world. Peace begins with each of us.”

It was then that MSD grads Edrich, Miranda and Taubenkimel each took a lit candle to attendees, who had received unlit candles earlier. Students shared their flames with one another, and soon the entire gathering was alight with the soft glow of the candles.

The vigil concluded with Correll-Hughes leading the gathering in a mass recital of the Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred let me sow love. …”

— Rick de Yampert