Parkland Father Fred Guttenberg Remembers His Daughter Jaime: 'Valentine's Day Will Never Be About Love Again'

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Fred Guttenberg (L), father of Parkland, Florida, shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg, confronting Judge Brett Kavanaugh last September. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
FE_Guns_Guttenberg_1026697326_USE AS BANNER
Fred Guttenberg (L), father of Parkland, Florida, shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg, confronting Judge Brett Kavanaugh last September. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

So much has happened in the past year. And yet, it's as if time has stood still.

You cannot imagine how your life changes after losing a child to gun violence. You become incapable of having a normal day. Each morning, you wake up missing your child more, not less. Every day brings reminders of what you've lost—a memory on Facebook, the first day of school, a dance recital, a birthday. Things that came so naturally, like planning a family vacation, take on a new meaning.

And of course there's Valentine's Day, which, for our family, will never again be about love. Now, it's the day our 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was a victim of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. I am forever haunted by my inability to remember if I told Jaime that I loved her as I rushed her off to school. I was too busy being a dad getting his two children out the door. I never imagined she would not come home.

Because of the way she died, the reminders are amplified. She spent her last moments in terror, fleeing from a gunman with an AR-15. Every time another shooting makes the news, or someone opines about gun violence on Twitter, or we receive another notice about the criminal and civil legal proceedings involving Jaime's killer, it's a reminder not of her life but of her death. There is never a normal day.

I've always taken care of two children, and that's all I know. Only now I am forced to take care of Jaime by responding to the reality of gun violence. I now take care of her by doing everything possible to make sure no other parent sends their child to school, a park, the mall, a temple or church, or any other public place only to learn they won't be coming home. Now, I fight for Jaime by doing everything I can to make sure children come home to parents and parents come home to children.

Fred Guttenberg and Jaime. Courtesy of Fred Guttenberg

I've channeled all my energy and love for Jaime in the fight to end gun violence. Whether it's traveling the country; speaking to the media; meeting with elected officials; testifying to Congress; or writing, engaging, sharing or meeting other survivors of gun violence and keeping Jaime's dreams alive through our foundation, Orange Ribbons for Jaime, I do it all for her.

And this year won't be any different. Asking me to stop fighting is like asking me to stop being Jaime's dad. And that's never going to happen. Too many lives are on the line.

To put in perspective how grave America's gun violence crisis has become, we are already at the point in the calendar year when more Americans have been killed with guns than are killed in other high-income nations in an entire year. Wrap your head around that: In one month, we have seen more gun deaths than our peer nations will experience in an entire year.

That's unacceptable, and we must demand change from our leaders. The U.S. House of Representatives has that chance by bringing H.R. 8—bipartisan legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales—to the floor for a vote. Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this, even among the majority of gun owners.

I should be teaching Jaime how to drive. I should be planning her Sweet 16, teasing her about her first boyfriend, watching her as she starts her first job. I should be doing all the things the dad of a teenage daughter is meant to do. Now, I visit her at a cemetery and hope this never happens to anyone else.

Jaime is forever 14. And I am forever her dad.

Fred Guttenberg has devoted the past year to the issue of gun safety and to his foundation, Orange Ribbons for Jaime, which focuses on things that were important to his late daughter, as well as on gun safety. He is also a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.