3 Years Ago, I Sent My Daughter to High School for the Last Time

Three years. It is hard to believe it has been three years since I sent my beautiful, sweet, strong, and brave 14-year-old daughter, Gina Montalto, to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the last time. A young lady who was full of grace, with a passion for life, excited to see what adventures the future had in store for her. Three years since I had her body returned to me cold and lifeless.

Every day, I live a life that is unimaginable for others but for me is reality, that Gina did not come home from school on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2018. My first-born child was ambushed by a 19-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a weapon designed to kill, and plenty of ammunition. The shooter gained access to the MSD campus through an unlocked and unmanned gate. He came prepared to wreak havoc in the school’s hallways and classrooms, to murder and maim. How is it possible that these two people would ever encounter each other? There is no way on Earth that this will ever make sense to me.

From the moment I received a call alerting me that there was a shooting at MSD, I felt immediately that something was wrong with Gina. It was a feeling that I kept pushing down as I stood on a corner across the street from the school looking at every student’s face that passed by me as I searched for my daughter. I felt it, I knew it, I was denying it as many of the over 3,000 students and staff passed me by and there was still no word from Gina, not a call, not a text. My husband was home waiting, so I knew she didn’t walk home. Nothing. Silence, which was an indication that she was unable to communicate with us. I got a lead that Gina may have been take to the hospital, so with the help of my friends, we rushed over there.

My husband, Tony, arrived, and we were told that dreaded news that we did not want to hear: Gina was at the hospital, but she had died and would never be coming home with me again. Only a few hours after a wonderful start to Valentine’s Day, our lives had been turned upside down and things would never be the same. Our family would never be whole again.

In her 14 years on Earth, Gina was able to make connections to people from all walks of life. She was a kind and loving daughter to us, a protective big sister to her brother, and she was loved deeply by her extended family and friends. She was able to touch everyone in a personal and meaningful way. Always first to say hello and welcome new friends. Her life was brief, but her spirit should be cherished and honored through the Gina Rose Montalto Memorial Foundation, created to keep her light shining and continue her legacy by helping others through higher education scholarships and supporting causes that Gina loved participating in, like Girl Scouts and helping children of all abilities.

On February 14, I ask that everyone reading this take a moment to remember all the victims of the Parkland massacre. Seventeen innocent lives taken in under seven minutes. I implore all parents to hug their children longer and more often. Kids, hug your parents and let them hug you. Step back and be present to share life with those closest to you.

I can only wish I still had a chance to do those things with my forever 14-year-old daughter, Gina Rose Montalto.

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