Legacy of 14-year-old killed in Parkland continues through her father

Alaina Petty's father still pushing for safer schools 1 year after her death

PARKLAND, Fla. – As Thursday marks one year since 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida, students, teachers and parents have been remembering the lives lost and pushing for safer schools.  

One of the 17 killed was 14-year-old Alaina Petty, a bright young student at the high school in Parkland. Her life was cut short last year. But her legacy will continue as her father, Ryan Petty, tries to make schools safer.

He told News4Jax Feb. 14, 2018, was the worst day of his life. 

"It's hard to think back on that day," Petty said. "I was sitting in a meeting with my boss when my phone started -- I started getting text messages that there was a school shooting. I immediately thought, well, OK, this is a, you know, this has got to be a false alarm."

It wasn’t. His wife couldn’t reach their daughter, Alaina.

"We were looking at the Find My Friends app and her phone wasn't moving and so we started to suspect the worst," Petty said. "The idea that you can send your child to school in the morning and that they're not going to come home ... It's not a thought any parent wants to entertain."


He described Alaina as a loving soul who was friendly, kind and intelligent.

"You know, I never thought I'd have to think about her legacy. I hope that she's proud of us that we're fighting so hard to make sure that what happened to her that day doesn't happen to any other students," Petty said.

REMEMBERING: The 17 who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

Within days after her death, Petty and his family got involved with other victims’ loved ones, starting a nonprofit and working with the governor to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act. It added police and armed guards to all public schools, beefed up the focus on mental health, and improved background checks.

When asked whether he thought the massacre was preventable, Petty replied, "Absolutely."

"I said it back in May when I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is the most preventable school shooting that I'm aware of," he said.

Petty knows there's a long way to go to stop future tragedies and he wants the government to be more accountable for these attacks. But he thinks the parents, students and teachers in Parkland are making a difference.

"I hope (schools are) a bit safer, but we have a long ways to go and we have -- there's more work to do," Petty said. "We'll keep pushing, keep fighting to make sure that the Legislature, school administrators, parents understand the risks and if they're taking the appropriate steps to make sure that this can't, this can't happen again."

Ryan Petty speaks with News4Jax I-TEAM investigator Vic Micolucci.
Ryan Petty speaks with News4Jax I-TEAM investigator Vic Micolucci.

The mood in Parkland this week has been very somber, with many planning to stay away from the school on Thursday. Yet, there has been an overwhelming sense of unity and resiliency.

Petty joined other families who lost loved ones Wednesday at the Broward County courthouse with Gov. Ron DeSantis as he called for a statewide grand jury to look at whether the state's school districts are complying with school safety laws enacted in the wake of a high school massacre.

On Thursday, Petty said he will spend time giving back to the community and then remember Alaina at home with his family. 

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