‘We’re Going to Keep Fighting:’ How Families Cope with Loss

April Schentrup speaking to press during a break at the MSD Public Safety Commission Meeting in June 2018 (Photo: Nathalie Sczublewski)

By Nathalie Sczublewski

A memorial for Carmen Schentrup outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Photo: Nathalie Sczublewski)

Moving can be stressful. Moving across the country — even more so.

This past fall, the Schentrups began the grueling task of packing up their home. The family were leaving their Parkland, Fla. home of six years to Seattle. 

“You don’t know what to do with things,” said April Schentrup. “For us, my husband was going back to work. He was traveling more. We ended up making a decision to move.” 

The Schentrups labeled boxes and packed away their belongings.  

Then, it was time to pack Carmen’s room. Their daughter Carmen, had not lived at the home for months. 

On Feb. 14, 2018, Carmen and her little sister Evelyn went to school. Only Evelyn came home that day. Carmen was killed in the Parkland mass shooting. 

As moving day approached, it was the first time for the family to really go through Carmen’s room.

Evelyn kept some of her sister’s belongings. Then, April went through Carmen’s closet. She saved her shirts from clubs, honor societies and a costume shirt she wore in the play, “The Little Mermaid.” 

On Carmen’s walls were photos of horses and a poster of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Carmen’s favorite actor (and celebrity crush). Carmen had a wall of quotes. Some quotes included one that encapsulated her love of coffee and another from Dr. Seuss’s “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” 

April snapped photos of Carmen’s walls. She wanted to remember the quotes that meant so much to daughter. April and Phil did not have the strength to take down their daughter’s posters or quotes. They left it to the painters or new homeowners. 

“It’s hard to go through it,” said April Schentrup, tearing up. “It’s hard to pick up an item and think about her or what to do with it.” 

After settling into their new home in Seattle, Carmen’s boxes remain sealed. April and her husband cannot open them yet. 

“It’s hard to describe. Time numbs everything out,” said Carmen’s brother, Robert Schentrup. “The sheer gravity of the loss is hard for me to grasp.”

“It stripped away my innocence,” Robert said. “My sister’s innocence. My ability to look at a world in a happy way. Other people’s ability to feel happiness. It strips away more than just the person.”

A photo of Jaime on her memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Photo: Nathalie Sczublewski)

Jaime Guttenberg danced and sang around her house. She and her older brother Jesse, joked and laughed with each other. 

Now, silence. 

It’s been over a year since Jaime danced around her house or made her brother laugh. 

“She was the energy in our house,” said Jaime’s father, Fred Guttenberg. “My house is so much quieter without Jaime and that’s not a good thing.” 

Like the Schentrup siblings, Jesse and Jaime went to school the morning of Feb. 14, 2018. Only Jesse returned home. Jaime died in the same mass shooting that killed Carmen and 15 others. 

“My daughter ran for her life knowing there was an AR-15 at her back,” said Guttenberg. “One more second and she could have made it to that stairwell to safety.” 

Jaime’s death took a toll on the family. Guttenberg explained his son struggles with survivor’s guilt. The American Psychiatric Association links survivor’s guilt to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a major accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

Jesse and Jaime were inside the 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — the building where the shooting took place. Jesse and his friends ran away from the building. 

“He watched his sister like a hawk,” Guttenberg said.” “The fact that it was her and not him. He sometimes struggles with because he feels like, if he were the one there, he maybe could have done something more — which he couldn’t have, but that’s typical survivor’s guilt.”

After losing Jaime, the family see a grief counselor. Guttenberg says every once in a while, they will take trips and remove themselves from Parkland. 

For Guttenberg, his gun safety advocacy work is a way to cope with his trauma. His activism kicked in when he spoke at the Parkland vigil the night after the shooting. A week later, CNN interviewed him before a town hall and he appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“You don’t stand still, when you know you’re supposed to do something for others,” Guttenberg said. “You always do what’s right, not what’s easy.” 

“I’m a father who knows enough about life and loss to have a credible conversation on this topic and I don’t intend to stop,” he said.

This past June, Jesse graduated high school. Proud their son was off to college, but saddened Jaime was not there cheering him on as received his diploma. 

“There’s not a day where you don’t get the reminder of what you don’t have — of the drama and the chaos that it caused,” said Guttenberg. “You know, whether it be as simple as a Facebook memory, or you go out — you know we went out to dinner with some friends the other night, and the only other reason why they’re friends is because Jaime danced with their daughters and it’s hard for us to do things like that, but we have to. We have to live life.” 

The aftermath of the shooting stressed Melissa Falkowski, the high school’s newspaper adviser who hid students inside her classroom closet on Feb. 14, 2018. She worried about her students’ well-being when they returned to campus two weeks later. 

“I think for a long time, we’ve kind of felt like we’re like an oddity,” said Falkowski. “It’s the same way I felt like until when they took the memorial down that was outside the school. And every time you drive by, there were all these people walking around our school and it’s almost like we’re a tourist attraction.”

The repercussions of a mass shooting remain constant. One year after the Parkland mass shooting, two survivors Sydney Aiello and Calvin Desir, committed suicide. Just days later, Jeremy Richman, the father of Avielle Richman, also took his life. Avielle was one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. 

“I think we also need to remind everyone to be cognizant of signs and symptoms,” said Guttenberg. “Because while those two happened here, there were suicides happening all over the country that weren’t getting media attention that were also important. And as a country, we need to do a better job at addressing the mental health issues that might lead one to do that.”

After the suicides, media outlets migrated to Parkland again.

“It just reinforces how hard it is to get back to any kind of normal,” Guttenberg said.

Jody Marchand wrapped her ninth annual Ride for Liv/Run for Liv event. Propped against her dining room wall were raffle prizes, goodie bags and a poster board-sized list of 117 prize donations. 

Photos of her daughter Olivia, were strewn across her kitchen counter and dining room table. Marchand walked back into her Westford, Mass. home after a neighbor returned signs from the event. 

She stood in the middle of her kitchen, arms folded as her eyes wandered over the pictures of her only child.

“It’s the after,” said Marchand. “It’s the stuff everywhere. It’s this overwhelming, ‘What am I going to do with everything?’ And it’s over and done with,” she said. 

Marchand suffers from PTSD and survivor’s guilt since her husband shot her and fatally shot Olivia. Marchand was shot in the in the head and jaw. She says, “everyday is a struggle.” Marchand explained her husband hunted and the gun he used on them, was a Christmas gift she bought him. 

“The guilt I will always have. The guilt…” Marchand wept. “I will always hate myself. I can’t. You just hate yourself.”

In the weeks after her daughter’s death, Marchand stumbled upon Olivia’s ink and charcoal drawings. Marchand admired one drawing in particular. 

Marchand visited a tattoo parlor clutching Olivia’s drawing of a hummingbird. In folklore, hummingbirds are symbols of life. Marchand looks down on her arm as a reminder. Three of Olivia’s drawings hang in her office. 

Jody Marchand’s tattoo of Olivia’s hummingbird (Photo: Nathalie Sczublewski)

Marchand says raising awareness of domestic violence and talking about Olivia is a “must” in order for her to carry on. 

“Your child cannot be gone and forgotten. There’s a problem,” Marchand said. “It’s not because I must be on TV, it’s because it’s a must that our children did not die for nothing.”

The summer months are difficult for State Rep. Liz Miranda. Two years ago, her little brother Michael was murdered in Boston. Miranda is no stranger to loss. 

During her freshman year at Wellesley College, one of her closest friends and neighbor died. Since that year, Miranda has lost someone she knew. 

“We live in a violent community,” Miranda said. “Some of them were young people. Some of them were, you know, older, but I never thought that it would happen to me or my family.”

Miranda felt paralyzed by her brother’s death. She wondered what she was going to do next. One day, she flipped through a magazine and saw a photo of a beach in Italy. The beach was beautiful, tranquil and just what she needed. 

After months of saving, she booked her ticket to Italy. During her trip, Miranda realized she must run for office. 

Miranda knocked on hundreds of doors in Dorchester and Roxbury. She made thousands of phone calls and met with potential constituents. During the 2018 midterms, she won the election and was sworn into office the following January. 

“I’m happy that I’m a brown girl in a space that we’re not in. That I’m an inner-city girl who can kind of share that experience,” said Miranda. “That I’m a survivor, so whenever the conversation comes up about guns or gun violence, I have a real lived experience that adds a lot of value.” 

April Schentrup found solace in her new church. When Carmen died, the Schentrups leaned on their faith. In later months, it became taxing. 

“Later on it was hard to go to church,” said April Schentrup. “Not seeing Carmen there in the choir loft or you know, it was just difficult.” 

After moving to the Northwest, April attended a church she was comfortable with. The church has a support group for those who endured loss, which she finds helpful. 

Connecting with gun violence survivors and families in similar scenarios and joining Moms Demand Action, also helps April. Additionally, she continues her advocacy work by speaking at events and meeting legislators. 

“We’re just hopeful more is done and passed through like H.R.8.,” said April. “Hopeful that if it’s not passed this time, that voters will continue to remember to put the right people in place, but with their heart. We’re going to keep fighting and advocating for what we know will keep people safe. We’re not going anywhere.”

About Nathalie Sczublewski 5 Articles
Nathalie Sczublewski is a multimedia journalist from South Florida. She is a graduate student at Emerson College. She received her B.A. in Journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She hopes to report on politics and local news after graduating.