Parkland School Shooting Victim Remembered for Her Love of LBI

May 23, 2018
Courtesy of: Theresa Robinovitz Alyssa Alhadeff

On a gray and rainy Friday afternoon in May, Theresa Robinovitz sat in a newsroom desk chair, waiting for a scheduled interview to talk about her granddaughter to begin, visibly haunted as news continued to come in about that morning’s school shooting at a high school in Texas. Just three months and four days earlier, her granddaughter, Alyssa Alhadeff, was one of 17 killed when a gunman opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“I thought about cancelling. Today is a bad day because of what is happening in Texas. I am reliving that day because of today’s news,” she said, adding quietly, “It happened out of order. I should have died first.”

Alyssa was shot multiple times by Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former Stoneman Douglas student, who injured 17 others before fleeing from the scene by blending in with other students. He was taken into custody about an hour after the shooting began. In Texas on May 18, eight students and two teachers were killed by a Santa Fe High School student.

Although she was born in Queens, N.Y., Alyssa’s favorite place was the beach and her favorite beach 75th Street in Long Beach Township, a short walk across the Boulevard from her grandparents’ bayview home.

“It’s where she loved being. You couldn’t get her out of the water,” Robinovitz recalled, “except for the time her brother’s bathing suit came all the way off.”

Alyssa’s idea of a perfect day on the Island included a trip to Joey’s Pizza, Fantasy Island and ice cream at The Show Place, she said.

“I noticed after the shooting,” Robinovitz said, “there were points she won at Fantasy Island still hanging on the refrigerator. She had hung them up.”

As an Island visitor, Alyssa played at the Lauren Rousseau playground at Bayview Park in Brant Beach, built to honor the Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher killed in the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Now the Where Angels Play Foundation, which built 26 playgrounds to honor the Sandy Hook victims, is making plans to build playgrounds in and around Parkland to honor the victims of the Douglas High School shooting, Robinovitz said.

“I am disorientated by what is going on in Texas,” she said before adding, “I was walking through the house the other day looking at all the pictures, and I realized hers will always remain 14 years old, but her brothers will get older.”

On the morning of Feb. 14, Robinovitz and Alyssa texted each other. At 3:11 p.m., Robinovitz sent a text asking her granddaughter if she was safe.

“I never heard from her again,” she said.

In the days after the school shooting, Alyssa’s mother, Lori, directed her anger at President Donald Trump, urging him to “help us now. We need security now for all these children. We need action, action, action.”

She and Robinovitz have backed up those words with actions of their own, from participating in the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C., a trip paid for in full by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to the founding of the nonprofit Make Schools Safe. The mother-daughter duo has become advocates for school safety.

“Whatever my daughter needs me to do, I do,” Robinovitz said. “I can only think one thing at a time, and right now I am focused on school safety.”

So much so that she is planning to discuss school safety with Israeli officials on an upcoming trip. Twenty-two children were killed in a 1974 Palestinian terror attack at an Israeli elementary school, where 115 people were taken hostage and 68 injured. Now, Israeli schools with 100 or more students have armed guards who check everyone entering the schools. The guards are the first line of defense of any threat at the school.

While little has been accomplished at the national level in the U.S., Robinovitz said she is proud of the progress New Jersey has made in addressing gun laws.

“So many gun laws have been passed (since the shooting),” she said, noting one of those measures, A-764, known as Alyssa’s Law, requires all school buildings to be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm linked to local law enforcement, which can be activated in the event of a life-threatening emergency. It was passed by the Assembly in April.

The gun laws also include allowing the state attorney general to seize a firearm in the possession of a person deemed by a mental health professional to be likely to pose a threat of serious harm to themselves or another person; to issue gun violence restraining orders against individuals who pose a significant threat to themselves or others by possessing or owning a firearm. It requires all sales or other transfers to be handled through a licensed dealer and requires a complete National Instant Criminal Background Check; redefines the definition of justifiable need to carry a handgun; and bans firearm magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

“We’re part of a group no one ever wants to be a part of,” Robinovitz said, noting the cards, letters, notes and drawings the family has received from people across the country and the world have been overwhelming. “The community down there is so heartbroken.”

Stoneman Douglas High School junior Jamie Morris, who played soccer with Alyssa, reached out to the U.S. women’s national soccer team in the wake of Alyssa’s death. The team honored Alyssa and the other 16 victims by displaying her soccer jersey during the SheBelieves Cup at the Orlando City Stadium on March 7. Alyssa began playing soccer at age 3 and was promoted to the high school varsity team before the end of the season.

“Alyssa was also a member of the debate team, volunteered at a homeless shelter for children, loved going to the mall with her friends and obsessing over boys,” Robinovitz said. “An avid reader, Alyssa routinely read books off the New York Times best sellers list, which fed her other passion: writing.

“She was an amazing writer. She has so much material I am looking to turn it into children’s books. We’ll sell it to benefit school safety,” Robinovitz said, remembering her granddaughter with the “contagious laugh. She didn’t like cheese on her pizza, so she always gave it to me.”

For more information on Make Schools Safe, visit makeourschoolssafe.org.

— Gina G. Scala

gscala@thesandpaper.net

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