Alaina Petty, 14, died in last week’s Florida school shooting
The Mormon parents of a 14-year-old girl killed in last week’s Florida school shooting think better family values – not gun control – could have saved their daughter’s life, they said in a new interview.
Ryan and Kelly Petty told the Deseret News they believe admitted shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, is responsible for the loss of their daughter Alaina, but they also think he wasn’t given the love and support he needed after his adoptive parents died.
While many blame the shooting on weak gun control, and others such as President Trump suggest arming teachers is the solution, the Pettys think help for families is the way to stop the mass shootings epidemic.
‘Strong families are vital to a peaceful, functioning society,’ Ryan said.
‘When families break down, that’s where the problems begin. We need legislators and policymakers to pass legislation and create policies that strengthen families.’
‘We wish and believe, that if somebody had been able to put their arms around him and show him some compassion and love to the extent that would have enabled him to get some help, things may have been very different last week.’
Alaina’s parents are still piecing together what happened to their daughter. They said she was in her English class expecting to get picked up in about 30 minutes for an orthodontist appointment when Cruz walked into the high school and unleashed a bloodbath.
Ryan and Kelly Petty told the Deseret News they hope those seeking change in the aftermath of the tragedy consider ‘policies that strengthen families’. They are pictured with daughter Alaina, daughter Meghan, 19, son Ian, 22, and son Patrick, 17)
Alaina’s funeral on February 19 was attended by 1,500, and the U.S. Army awarded her its Medal of Heroism
Their 17-year-old son Patrick, also a student at Stoneman Douglas High School, texted Kelly: ‘There’s a shooter on campus.’
Alaina, however, never answered her mother’s texts.
As they waited for news of their daughter at the Marriott Hotel, the Pettys began hearing details about the shooter, who lost his adoptive mother last November and had a history of violent and threatening behavior.
‘Having a strong family is the most important thing, to have support and love and to learn right from wrong,’ said Kelly.
‘When children don’t have that, sometimes they end up doing really bad things. If strong families were encouraged more and fought for more, more kids could be helped and not fall by the wayside and not do things like last week.’
Ten hours after the shooting, the Pettys found out Alaina had died.
‘There are no words to fill the hole we feel in our lives,’ Ryan told the Deseret News.
He added that while his family is ‘saddened’ Cruz didn’t receive help before he decided to unleash the massacre, they are not removing any responsibility for the choices he made.
Ryan also said that when he watched media coverage of previous school shootings he thought he would be angry if it happened to him, but now, aided by his strong faith, he feels a sense of peace.
‘If strong families were encouraged more and fought for more, more kids could be helped and not fall by the wayside and not do things like last week,’ said Alaina’s mom Kelly.
The Pettys said their daughter was expecting to leave school early the day of the shooting to go to an orthodontist appointment (Alaina’s siblings pose with authorities of the Mormon church on February 16)
‘I’m amazed I haven’t felt angry.
‘We’re choosing to focus on our eternal family,’ said Ryan, who, aside from Patrick, also shares 22-year-old Ian and 19-year-old Meghan with Kelly.
Alaina’s funeral was attended by 1,500, and the U.S. Army awarded her its Medal of Heroism.
She was part of her school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The Perrys said that at first they thought their daughter was just trying to get out of P.E., but soon saw her running 5ks, obstacle courses and mile runs with a 30-pound backpack.
The dedicated girl attended Mormon Church seminary courses at 6am before going to school, and JROTC until 5.30pm. When Hurricane Irma struck Florida, she volunteered to help others with the group Mormon Helping Hands.
‘Alaina always did more than the physical work. She was just caring. She would do anything she could to make the families feel safe and to help them emotionally, too, to feel better,’ friend Hannah Beardall told the Deseret News.
One of Alaina’s Mormon friends, Madeleine Wilford, was shot by Cruz four times but survived her injuries, which included a collapsed lung, and returned home on Wednesday.
Through tears, Madeleine said Alaine was ‘amazing’ and that she loved her.
‘I loved her,’ she said. ‘She always lit up the room. She was always so lighthearted and spirited. She always made people laugh. It was rough losing her, finding out she was dead. I know she’s in a good place.’
Speaking to the Deseret News, 17-year-old Madeleine shared her experience that tragic day, saying ‘all of a sudden shots went off’ when she was in her AP Psychology class.
One of Alaina’s Mormon friends, Madeleine Wilford, was also shot by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz four times but survived her injuries
President Trump and First Lady Melania visited Madelaine in the hospital on February 16 and promised to give her a letter of recommendation for the college she wants to attend, Brigham Young University
Cruz, she said, was a few classrooms down from hers, shooting through windows as he made his way down the hall.
Madeleine recalled how frightened students dove to the floor in an attempt to get out of the line of sight of the door window as she wedged herself between the teacher’s podium and a desk. As students hid, she was pushed towards the middle of the room.
‘All of a sudden I felt a shot hit me,’ said Wilford, adding that she doesn’t recall feeling the other three bullets.
‘I realized I was shot and an immense amount of pain went over me. The first thing I thought was that I was going to die. I was screaming, ‘Help me! Help me!’ I was frantic. I didn’t know what to do.’
Then, Medeline recounted, she ‘felt a sense of peace’ and blacked out.
To save her life, doctors then put her on a ventilator, reattached three tendons in her right arm and fused titanium plates to her broken ribs.
President Trump and First Lady Melania visited Madelaine in the hospital last week and promised to give her a letter of recommendation for the college she wants to attend, Brigham Young University.
Madeleine, who attended a week-long Mormon girl’s camp with Alaina, has also stuck to her faith.
Two weeks before the shooting, she gave a speech at a Mormon conference that would gain even more meaning after the tragedy.
‘Most people say they don’t believe in God because if there was a God, all these terrible things wouldn’t be happening,’ she recalled saying.
‘But that’s what we’re put on this earth to do, to endure a lifetime, and life’s going to be full of ups and downs. The only way we can make it better is to turn toward Christ and know that he always has a plan for us, and he’ll help us through it no matter what.’