Alumni rally behind Florida alma mater

Jim Darling/Moms Demand Action—Colorado.

On Feb. 14, the nation once again watched in horror as news of another school shooting spread. By the end of the day 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, were dead.

In Colorado, Maria Redondo and Dustin Zwiebel were both at work when they first heard about the shooting at their alma mater.

Redondo, who graduated from MSD in 2008, was at her bar, Romero’s K9 Club & Tap House, in Lafayette. Although her phone was full of text messages from high school friends, she thought it was about organizing her class’s upcoming 10-year reunion. It wasn’t until a patron walked in talking about a school shooting in Coral Springs, Florida — Parkland to be exact — that she turned on the TV to watch.

“Immediately my heart sank. It was heart-breaking,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything but shake and wonder if my friends’ siblings, cousins, my teachers were OK.”

Unfortunately her classmates’ cousins — Meadow Pollack and Joaquin Oliver — were two of the victims. As was Coach Aaron Fies, someone Redondo remembers as just the kind of person who would jump in front of students to protect them.

“Everyone at Douglas, I consider them friends,” Redondo says. “We’re all family there. That’s just what it is.”

Zwiebel, class of 2006, got a text message from his high school best friend as he walked into work as a 911 dispatcher at Jefferson County. He sat at his desk, watching the tragedy unfold on TV.

“To see something this tragic happen to such an amazing community was surreal. I don’t think it’s still set in,” Zwiebel says. “I’m distracting myself by doing everything I can to support them.”

Since Feb. 14, Zwiebel, Redondo and approximately 70 other MSD alumni living in Colorado have joined a growing network of former students organizing events and fundraisers for their hometown community. The national alumni Facebook group, which launched the night of the shooting, has grown to more than 11,000 members.

“It’s a very big school with a small school feel,” Redondo says of MSD, which has roughly 3,000 students. “The spirit of that school is just unparalleled. There’s so much pride in being an Eagle.”

The Colorado chapter of MSD alumni, many of whom were not connected prior to the tragedy, held a candle-light vigil on the steps of the state capital on Wednesday, Feb. 21. They are supporting local students organizing a Denver March for Our Lives rally to coincide with national marches around the country at the end of the month. They met for a Sunday hike at Red Rocks, where they shot a short video to send to current students at MSD to show their support. And they are organizing their first fundraiser for victim relief at Romero’s K9 Club & Tap House on March 9.

“All our efforts are immediately for fundraising for the victims,” Zwiebel says.

While both Redondo and Zwiebel express support for the MSD students calling for gun safety legislation in Washington D.C. and at statehouses across the country, the event on March 9 is not about policy or activism. It’s simply to raise funds, and 100 percent of sales that night will go toward victim relief efforts at MSD, whether that’s counseling, building repairs or anything else.

“We really want to help the community get back on their feet and help the students get back into school,” says Redondo, who is still looking for businesses or corporations to match donations. She’s also collecting silent auction items from local businesses. Many of the breweries she works with have already donated the beer.

“Once they heard of my connection there,” she says, “I think it made it a little more real than just another shooting.”   

Brews for MSD Victim Relief. 3 p.m., Friday, March 9, Romero’s K9 Club & Tap House, 985 S. Public Road, Lafayette.