‘Bringing them up alone was difficult; we didn’t have as much as some people we knew, but we made it through and we did it well.’
“I moved back to Long Island in 1986 with my kids after my divorce, when my son Scott was 4 and my daughter was 6. We were part of a military family, and we had moved around a lot, and I don’t talk about that much, as our lives were so private before Scott’s murder.
“I was born and raised in New York, moving to Roslyn when I was 9 after my family moved there from Queens. By the time I was a teen, I already knew I wanted to go far away to college so I could truly see who I really was. I went to the University of Arizona, and the experience was amazing.
“From ’76 to ’86, I lived as a military wife. I was an elementary school teacher, and I taught in Germany and in four different U.S. states. My kids were born in the South in two different states.
“When I returned to Long Island with the kids, we moved in with my parents for a while until I could afford to find a place of our own, and we moved to Dix Hills. I worked; I had to work, I had no choice, it was tough and I did the best I could.
“Bringing them up alone was difficult; we didn’t have as much as some people we knew, but we made it through and we did it well. To this day, when I walk down the stairs, I feel thankful to be living in a house that’s mine. Before this, I never did, whether it was post housing or renting or my parents’ house.
“The things that you overcome or survive are amazing. I watched my kids flourish here, with both my kids going away to college. Before that, they both went to sleepaway camp. My daughter went to camp first when Scott was 6, and after the hubbub we made about how great camp was, Scott said he wanted to go the next year.
“My dad told me, ‘He’s never getting on the bus,’ but Scott never looked back, and at age 7 was the youngest kid there. He ended up going for 28 years. It was really nice when he became a CIT [counselor in training], so I didn’t have to pay for him to go anymore! He eventually became a counselor and a staff member.
My husband said, “The name is Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” and I said, “OK, so?” But he said, “No, no, no, there was a shooting at the school.”
“After college, Scott stayed in Florida. My parents had also moved there, and it’s where my dad passed, just nine months before Scott. My parents would rely on the kids, especially Scott, who would go to brunch with them every weekend, and then when my dad passed, he’d go with his grandma. He was there for them.
“When they were sick, I’d tell him he needed to get them groceries, and Scott would do it in a heartbeat. My daughter ended up in Connecticut, so it was just my husband and me left here on Long Island.
“My husband is the greatest guy in the whole wide world by the way, I got so lucky. He adopted the kids when they were in their 20s; Scott adored him. Scott became a teacher in Florida, but before that he volunteered to teach in South Africa for two months.
“He went with two suitcases, with what he thought he needed to bring, but when he came back, all he had with him was his favorite pillow in a backpack. I thought at first maybe the airline had lost his suitcases, but when I asked, he put his hand up and just said, ‘Ma, you don’t understand. I left my stuff; they need it way more than I do.’ That’s Scott!
“He got a job teaching geography at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [in Parkland, Florida] in August of 2017. It was really his excuse to go back to camp, I like to say, as he never stopped loving summer camp. We joked that he needed to go into teaching because you can’t just be a counselor at summer camp for three months and get by on that. But seriously, he loved teaching there. They let him teach the way he would liked to have been taught when he was in school.
“On Feb. 14, 2018, I had taken my husband to the doctor early that morning, at 8 a.m., and after bringing him home, I went to work. Around 2:22 p.m., I got a call from him. He asked what school Scott worked at, and I wasn’t sure; I just knew it had a lot of names. I told him, ‘I’m busy. I’ll talk to you later.’ But then he called me back. My husband said, ‘The name is Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,’ and I said, ‘OK, so?’ But he said, ‘No, no, no, there was a shooting at the school.’
One of the police officers bent over and said, “You know, your son was definitely a hero.” Then two other officers said, “But he didn’t make it.”
“He told me to come home, but I said no because, and it’s my philosophy, you don’t worry until there’s something to worry about. But then he called me again and said, ‘I think you need to come home,’ because he had heard on TV that a geography teacher was shot. So I went home, and I went fast.
“I told my husband Scott was OK, he was probably in the hospital, and we knew we had to go down there. There weren’t seats available on any plane due to a sports tournament, so we chartered one, even though we couldn’t afford it, we didn’t care. I just put it on a credit card.
“We got down there about 8:45 p.m., and we were whisked off to a command center. We know today that they knew at 2:30 p.m. who had been murdered, but we weren’t told until 1:50 a.m. That’s when they called us in.
“One of the police officers bent over, and said, ’You know, your son was definitely a hero.’ Then two other officers said, ‘But he didn’t make it.’ That’s how we found out it was Scott. I know now that Scott did what he would have wanted someone to do for him. He opened a [classroom] door and saved kids. I think he didn’t stop to think about it; it was instinctual.
“After we were escorted out and got back to the hotel, at about 4:20 a.m., my phone rang. It was a voice going, ‘I’m just letting you know that we’re going to be doing an autopsy.’ I pulled the religion card for the first time in my life and explained, ’You can’t. YOU CAN’T,’ based on my beliefs and ‘What can I do to stop this?’ But the voice said, and I quote, ‘Lady, you can get a court order, you can bring it in, nobody will see it until Monday. Your son will be on ice until then. The judge will not grant it, and we’re going to do that autopsy anyway.’
“This was because it was a criminal investigation, but we didn’t know that at the time. I still don’t know who it was that spoke to me like that during that call, but believe me, I am going to find out. I would like to face-to-face with that person and tell him, ‘Please, don’t ever do that to anybody else,’ and that, ‘I’m scarred from what you did to me.’ I understand, Scott was just another person to him, but I don’t want another person, any other person, to ever hear those same words.
I said I will never mourn my son’s death; I will celebrate his life.
“Scott was shot six times, or as the medical examiner explained, it was actually four times, but because the bullets went in, and then went out…we had everything explained to us ad nauseam.
“I never got to say goodbye to Scott. That is the one thing I will never get past. When we had his funeral, I had to bury him in his cap, because the cap would cover the scar on the back of his head where they had cut.
“I haven’t exactly figured out how I’m going to do it, but I want to be able to show the public what an AR-15 does to you. Scott gives me permission, I believe that. I want to publicly show his autopsy pictures. I want to show what it looked like when Scott was murdered.
“When the medical examiner talked about our loved ones and what happened to them, what a bullet does when it goes in … One of the victims was shot and only hurt, and when he put his hand up as the murderer came back, begging, ‘Please don’t,’ the murderer shot this kid through his hand. The bullet went into his skull, and the medical examiner said after that the only thing holding his head together was his scalp.
“People need to see what it does. They need to see. I need to get to Congress and show them what these weapons do. That’s the only way we’ll ever get the assault rifle ban back. I don’t want to take everybody’s guns away, I just want them to be owned legally, and that they go through the necessary steps to own them, like learning how to use them. But an assault weapon? I mean, if you shoot a deer with it, it’s demolished. In my mind, I can’t understand how this is not common sense, so I realize this must be show and tell.
“At his funeral, I had to speak; whoever thinks they’re going to bury their son? I said I will never mourn my son’s death, I will celebrate his life. That’s what I do.
“Some people I’ve met ask me, ‘How do you do it?’ Well, my experiences, really starting once I got to college, are what made me what I am, that’s what makes you who you are. It makes you have choices: Who do I want to be? Do I want to live hiding under the covers because my son was murdered? Or do I want to make sure nobody else has to go through the hell I went through, and I am still going through?
People talk about my son being a hero, but he was a hero in life.
“Two or three days after the murder, we wanted to do something to honor Scott and his legacy, so we started the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund. Based on Scott’s loves, we took what happened. The mission is to send at-risk, underserved children touched by gun violence to summer sleepaway camp, because that was Scott’s love, sleepaway camp.
“Our first year, we sent 54 campers to camp. The second year was the pandemic, so we gave a $25,000 grant to a camp that did virtual camp for 400 children. The third year, we gave out 154 camperships. And then this past year, we gave out 212 camperships after raising $283,600.
“I’ve been told I should write a book, but I’m not doing that, even though I feel like I’ve lived four lifetimes. Every once in a while, I wake up and ask myself, ‘Do I have to do life again?’ But when I visit those kids at the camp in the summer, I look at my husband and say, ‘This is why we do it.’ When I see those kids, and I know where they came from, and they look at me and say things like, ‘Will you send me back again next year?’ or ‘I don’t want camp to be over.’ Because that kid doesn’t know who’s picking her up, or they’re going back to a homeless shelter. That’s what it’s all about.
“I was brought up to care. My daughter was brought up to care. Scott was brought up to care. People talk about my son being a hero that day, but he was a hero in life. How could he have ever looked in the mirror again if he hadn’t done what he did? How could he have done any different? In my mind, there’s no other way he could have done it. What was he going to do, close the door and save himself?
“I believe there is a piece of Scott’s heart in every child we send to camp. Those are not just words; I truly believe that. Every kid we send to camp, that’s a piece of my son alive again. It might sound hokey, but I’ve decided I’m going to believe that. That’s how Scott continues.”
Interviewed by Ian J. Stark