A MOTHER who lost her 14-year-old daughter in the 2018 Parkland high school massacre says she fears for the safety of her other two children as America's gun violence epidemic spirals out of control.
Lori Alhadeff told The US Sun she was horrified and infuriated to learn of the deadly shooting at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday that left 21 dead, including 19 children.
Lori's daughter Alyssa was one of 14 children gunned down at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day 2018, just minutes before classes were due to end for the day.
The vivacious and fun-loving teenager, who was a budding soccer star, was tragically shot eight times by 19-year-old gunman Nickolas Cruz when he fired his AR-15 assault rifle through the window of her classroom as she was studying English.
Though Alyssa's death is never far from her mind, Lori said the trauma and grief of losing her only daughter came racing back to the surface on Tuesday after a similar sickening shooting unfolded at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
"I was shocked. Immediately I was brought back to Feb. 14, 2014," Lori told The US Sun. "Unfortunately, I know what these families are going through with losing my daughter Alyssa.
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"I just can't believe that the amount of kids that were shot and killed yesterday – it's just so horrific.
"I send my deepest sympathies to all the families who lost a loved one yesterday."
GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC
Like the tragedy in Parkland four years before it, Tuesday's spree in Uvalde was carried out by a teen gunman – since identified to be 18-year-old Salvador Ramos – who was wielding an AR-15.
Ramos stormed into the school at around 11.20am local time and within minutes had claimed the lives of 19 children aged between 7 and 10. Two teachers were also killed in the bloodshed.
Around 15 minutes before the first shot was fired, Ramos had chillingly warned in a post on his Facebook page: "I'm going to shoot an elementary school."
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He had also earlier shot his grandmother and bragged about doing so in a separate Facebook post.
Ramos' reign of terror came to an end at 1.06 pm when heavily armed police burst through a barricaded doorway and shot him dead inside a classroom.
Noting the similarities between Parkland and Tuesday's tragedy in Uvalde, Lori said there is no doubt in her mind that the US is in the midst of a gun violence epidemic.
Already there have been 211 mass shootings and 27 school shootings reported in the US in 2022.
The mounting violence has left Lori fearful for the safety of her other two sons who are both still in high school.
"I'm so scared," Lori admitted. "I’m fearful every time they go out because unfortunately these shootings are not only happening in our schools, they're also happening at our grocery stores, and in our movie theaters.
"It's really difficult being a parent and having to ask yourself, 'how do we protect our kids?'"
Each morning that she waves her two sons off to school, Lori says she's brought back to the moment she unknowingly said goodbye to Alyssa for the last time on the morning of Feb. 14, 2018.
"Every morning I make sure I tell my boys I love them, just like I said to Alyssa the last time I saw her alive," Lori said.
"It's really just so traumatic to deal with the pain and the loss of your child getting killed in school," she added.
"Before Feb. 14, 2018, I always thought school was the safest place for them to be.
"But unfortunately we found out the hard way that it wasn't."
In the wake of Alyssa's death, Lori propelled herself into activism, beginning with a heartbreaking impromptu appeal to then-President Donald Trump on the day of Alyssa's funeral.
"A crazy person just walks right into the school, knocked on the window of my child’s door, and starts shooting, shooting her, and killing her,” she said.
Lori suggested putting "metal detectors at every entrance to the school" during the emotional address.
Soon after, the former teacher launched Make Our Schools Safe, aiming to harden schools against intruders and to train students and teachers so they know how to respond.
She and her husband marched with Parkland students in Washington for increased safety measures and background checks. And, in May of 2018, Lori was elected to the Broward County School Board.
Through Make Our Schools Safe, she passed Alyssa's Law in Florida and in New Jersey, which requires officials to install panic buttons in all classrooms to improve law enforcement response times during life-threatening emergencies.
Similar bills are also being considered in New York and Virginia, with Lori hoping to gradually pass the bill in every state.
Lori is also trying to help pass the Safer Schools Act, a federal bill that would allow schools to do security risk assessments and then apply for government funding, whether that be to buy security fencing or bulletproof windows for classrooms.
For Lori, the short-term solution to making classrooms safer for America's children does not rest on gun reform but instead on school safety.
"Gun reform is too polarizing as a subject but I think everyone can agree that schools need to be safe for our children," Lori said.
"And there are proven methods of safety protection for our kids at school, like having a single point of entry with fencing.
"You want to think of it as a bullseye: our kids are in the middle and we want to keep the threat from the outside of the bullseye."
Other protective measures should include law enforcement comprehensively investigating any threats posted by students on social media and better mental health resources, Lori says.
"What we've done since Parkland obviously isn't enough because people are still dying," she added.
You want to think of it as a bullseye: our kids are in the middle and we want to keep the threat from the outside of the bullseye.
"We live in a fast-food country, in the sense that we want something done quickly with immediate results, but school safety is continuous and needs to be followed with fidelity."
Speaking from her own experience, Lori said the lives of the parents, survivors, and first responders connected to Robb Elementary School will be forever changed.
She described her own journey through the grief of losing Alyssa as a "rollercoaster".
"The families will be feeling numb," Lori said. "They're in shock, their head is spinning; they don't know what to do or feel.
"I know that they're feeling heartbroken and it's not going to be easy.
"It's like a roller coaster for me," she added. "I literally could be fine and then I go to the grocery store and I could see something that I used to buy for Alyssa to eat or I can hear a song on the radio and just straight out start crying.
"I'm not gonna sit here and say it's easy, because it's not.
"I found turning my pain and grief into action and trying to help make schools safer.
"But however you can deal with the grief and pain that you're feeling right now, that is going to help these families get through this."
TWISTED TEEN A 'LONER'
The motive for Tuesday's shooting in Uvalde remains unclear.
The heinous attack came just two days before the summer break was due to commence.
Ramos, a high-school drop-out, has been described by officials as a loner who had very few friends.
He reportedly bought two AR-15s and a cache of ammo last week for his 18th birthday. One of those rifles was used to senselessly murder 21 people and wound 17 more; the second rifle was recovered from his car.
The twisted teen's shooting spree began at his grandmother's home on Tuesday morning, before he fled the scene. His grandmother was airlifted to an area hospital where she remains as of Wednesday.
Ramos then crashed his vehicle into a ditch near the elementary school and emerge with a rifle, backpack, and tactical vest capable of holding additional ammunition.
He continued in the direction of Robb Elementary and entered the school through a back door at 11.20 am. There a school resource officer "engaged" with Ramos but no shots were fired, cops say.
From there, Ramos barricaded himself inside a classroom and an adjoining classroom and opened indiscriminately at all the children and teachers inside.
A specialized tactical team forced their way into the classroom and fatally shot Ramos at 1.06 pm.
So far, 17 of the 19 kids killed have been identified by loved ones.
Amerie Jo Garza, Xavier Lopez, Uziyah Garcia, Makenna Lee Elrod, Ellie Garcia, Eliahana 'Elijah Cruz' Torres, Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, Tess Marie Mata, Lexi Rubio, Nevaeh Bravo, Rojelio Torres, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, Jailah Nicole Silguero, Miranda Mathis, Jose Flores, Maite Yuleana, and Alithia Ramirez all lost their lives.
The two teachers have been identified as Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia, who died while trying to protect their students.
The children killed were aged between seven and 11.
Amerie's grandmother Berlinda Irene Arreola told the Daily Beast that the gunman reportedly told students that they were going to die.
Amerie was shot dead as she tried to call 911 and her best friend was reportedly left covered in blood.
Arreola said: “She had her phone, and she called 911, and instead of grabbing it and breaking it or taking it from her, he shot her.”
She added Amerie died a hero because she tried to call the emergency services.
Amerie had just received an award for getting on the A-B honor roll.
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