I Am Dedicating the Rest of My Life to Fighting Gun Violence—For Jaime

Fred Guttenberg, father of Parkland shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg, recounts the horrific experience of losing his 14-year-old daughter—and the life she had ahead of her.

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(Image credit: Facebook / Fred Guttenberg)

Two weeks ago today, I was home getting some work done. My wife, who is a pediatric occupational therapist, was working right down the street from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My son, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, called me in a panic to tell me that there was a shooting at the school and he was running. He couldn't reach his 14-year-old sister, Jaime. I told him, You keep running. Let me worry about your sister.

He ran and eventually jumped the fence. He made it to the Walmart down the street, which is where I picked him up. We spent the next few hours trying to reach Jaime, trying to find her. We went to the hospitals. We went to the Marriott where they were keeping the students. Eventually, we found out that she was one of the victims. This could be anybody else's kid, and in 16 other cases it was. They all have their own stories to tell, but this is Jaime's.

Jaime was a unique person. She was tough as nails. She was not somebody who put up with B.S. She didn’t get caught up in the typical middle school/high school nonsense. She was a 14-year-old girl who put her time and effort into defending those that others wouldn’t. As a mere 10-year-old, she would often hang out with her neighbor who had asperger syndrome. She would always be a friend to her. That’s just who she is, it always has been.

It didn’t matter what group she was in, whether it be our home or at dance or at school, everybody knew my daughter as being silly, funny, energetic. I said at her funeral, "Jaime, wherever she went, she was the energy in the room." And she was.

She had her entire life figured out. She was going to be a pediatric physical therapist. She wanted to work at a place in Boca Raton called The Paley Institute—a place that works with kids who have limb deformities. She knew she was going to be married and have a kid by 25. That’s just the way she figured it—she was just a kid with a plan.

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Jaime Guttenberg with her parents, Fred and Jennifer. and her brother, Jesse.

(Image credit: Facebook / Fred Guttenberg)

She's been dancing since she was three years old, and dancing competitively since she was nine. Jaime was a great student, but she lived to dance. That was her passion. This past weekend would have been Jaime’s first dance competition of the year. While that was going on, we were visiting the cemetery.

Jaime loved to make people laugh. And while she did that, she also was really tough. She was part of the Best Buddies program—a non-profit organization dedicated to creating friendships for people with disabilities. She was more than happy to take on somebody who was bullying somebody else. She wasn’t a big kid, but she didn’t care. She also volunteered her time at a local organization called the Friendship Initiative—an organization that has programs for people with different disabilities.

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(Image credit: Facebook / Fred Guttenberg)

Her vocalness was heard from the second she was born. I’ve always told this joke about my two children: When my son was born, he didn’t really cry a whole lot. He was actually pretty chill the first few days. Jaime came out screaming and an hour later she was still screaming. I turned to my wife and said, This one isn’t like the other one. But that’s who Jaime was—she was always vocal and passionate. She was always heard.

My house is a much quieter place right now. Not only did my wife and I lose our little girl, but it happened in the most horrifically public way. My wife is struggling. My daughter was at that age where a daughter and a mother’s relationship starts to change and you get to enjoy a different kind of relationship as she turns into a woman herself. My wife was really looking forward to that, and she’s not going to get that.

"Jaime, wherever she went, she was the energy in the room."

As a family, we go forward by getting back to our life. That's what we do. But we can’t let this go away. This is all I care about at the moment. We need to stay in front of the media. We need to stay in front of the politicians. We need to stay on social media until this changes. These conversations, every time after one of these shootings happen, are always way too temporary. I am determined; the kids from this school are determined. We are not going to let that happen this time. Not this dad, not these kids, not this town. The phones are these kids' weapons—they’ve used them to actually record what took place while it was happening so that you can’t say it didn’t happen—and they've used them brilliantly.

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(Image credit: Facebook / Fred Guttenberg)

Orange was Jaime's favorite color. Orange is also the symbol of the gun safety movement. In Jaime’s name, I am dedicating the rest of my life to fighting to end gun violence. People outside of the community should be paying attention. They should be reaching out. They should be calling their representatives to say, Do something. Support common-sense gun reforms. They should be going after companies that do business with the NRA—that lobby has our representatives tied up in knots, and we have to break that.

If you have children, this could have been you. If you care about your kids, you need to step up and take action. There’s going to come a time in the next week or two where the noise is going to die down, and something else is going to come up. We can’t let this become invisible. I’m tired, but people are counting on me—people with children. I just can’t let it happen to another parent. I can’t.

If you'd like to contribute to stopping gun violence, donate to Orange Ribbons for Jaime, a forthcoming non-profit that will address school safety issues.

Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.