Father of Parkland shooting victim finds the light: ‘We all have our helpers’

Fred Guttenberg art
Guttenberg's book recounts the hidden blessings behind unspeakable tragedy.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and the subsequent reckoning on gun violence started generating books mere months after the tragic Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre.

And now comes Fred Guttenberg, father of slain high school freshman Jaime Guttenberg. He’s added to that body of work with “Find the Helpers: What 9/11 and Parkland Taught Me About Recovery, Purpose, and Hope.” It was published as a digital book a year ago and will be released in paperback next month.

“I hope my message can be the calm against chaos, the light against darkness,” Guttenberg writes. “I’ve decided to be a helper and I won’t stop fighting until the world is better … I’m only getting started.”

This book, like others, has plenty of politics: Getting phone calls from President Joe Biden (then Vice President), being hauled out of the Capitol at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address after an outburst, and trying to get on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. But it’s the first book to arise from the Parkland tragedy that left 17 dead and 17 others injured that seeks to address anyone who’s lived through any kind of loss.

“It is the story of the community and people I never expected,” Guttenberg said.

He’s said he’s hoping the book helps others enduring tragedy open up to the helpers around them, even if their tragedy doesn’t make headlines.

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, actress Alyssa Milano and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords comprise a who’s who of gun control activists proffering their praise for Guttenberg’s book.

The book’s inspiration started when the funeral director handling arrangements at his daughter’s funeral handed Guttenberg a blank book and urged him to keep a journal.

Four months before the shooting, Guttenberg had lost his brother, Dr. Michael Guttenberg, to pancreatic cancer. It’s believed his premature death at 50 years old was the result of dust and chemical exposure that occurred from working at Ground Zero in New York as the fire department’s medical director.

As Guttenberg wrote, he started with an entirely different story in mind.

“It was going to be about being a part of two American tragedies and how the country responded to both,” Guttenberg said. “But then it became about all these other people.”

Guttenberg writes about the first responders who shut down roads to mark his brother’s funeral with a cavalcade of 75 ambulances, fire trucks and escorts. He recounts dancers from across the country showing up in all kinds of ways, wearing orange ribbons in honor of Jaime, who was also a dancer, and an unexpected blessing when he found a “Love Jaime Day” pop up on his cell phone reminders after she had died. She had scheduled it.

“We all have our helpers and we don’t go through things alone,” he said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


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