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Father of Parkland shooting victim says things need to be different this time

Florida dad, daughter visit Utah Legislature for acts of kindness resolution

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SALT LAKE CITY — As Ryan Petty watched the Florida Legislature debate a school safety bill this week in the wake of the tragic shooting that took his daughter's life, he and other victims' families decided they want this time to be different.

"I want to be the last father that has to stand up and say that their child was killed at school," he said. "And the way that that will be different is if we focus on the things we can agree on as opposed to things that divide us."

The 17 families who lost love ones came together and got behind the legislation to raise the age to buy all firearms to 21 and impose a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases.

"We united around that and got that passed yesterday," he said, adding he hopes the governor will sign it. "That's how we make change, that's how we make it different this time."

Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, died in the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, visited the Utah Legislature on Thursday.

Utah lawmakers passed a resolution honoring the victims of the shooting by designating April as #MSDkindness month. HCR22 encourages Utahns to do random act of kindness during April and challenges other states to do the same for another month this year.

There also is a website, msdkindnessmonth.com.

"We want to know which state will pick up the gauntlet and take May," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, on the Senate floor.

The resolution also encourages residents to use the SafeUT mobile app to record and shine a light on acts of service, love and kindness done on behalf of the Parkland, Florida, victims and their families.

There have been 86 reports of school violence threats through the SafeUT app, some for the same threat, since its inception in late 2016, said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. One of the texts led to officials stopping a boy who brought two loaded guns in his backpack to school, he said.

Utah lawmakers formed a commission last month to consider recommendations to prevent school violence but rejected an extreme risk protective order bill that would have allowed police to remove guns from a person who has a propensity for violent or emotionally unstable behavior.

Davis County schools are starting a free wellness center to provide mental health counseling for students and parents, said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield.

"Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done with school violence," said Ray, the House sponsor of the resolution.

The idea for the resolution came from the state of Washington, where Ernie Geigenmiller, who attended BYU with Petty, started a #MarchKindness campaign.

Thatcher said that when he and Ray heard about it, "our first thought was challenge accepted. What better place to take an idea likes this and carry it forward than Utah."

The Feb. 14 shooting left 17 students and staff members dead, critically injured 16 others and caused mental and emotional anguish for Broward County, the state of Florida, and the nation, the resolution says.

Petty said he and his family greatly miss Alaina. He said there isn't a morning that he doesn't wonder if "this was some kind of a really bad dream and that I'll actually wake up and find out that she's still there and I can go give her a hug and tell her how much I love her."

Petty said his heart also goes to the perpetrator of this "evil and senseless" act. He wonders if the gunman's life would have been different had someone had put their arms around him months or years ago. He also wonders if the lives of the 17 families would be different.

Meghan Petty, Alaina's older sister, recalled the "big acts" of service her sister provided for others, including shoveling sewage and mud out of hurricane-ravaged homes and feeding homeless people.

"But what I remember about her the most isn't the huge things she did. It was the little things she did for me," she said.

Alaina, she said, didn't let her ride in the car alone and made her laugh, making an already good day better.

"She was always there, and things like that aren't hard to do, but they mean so much to the people who receive those acts of kindness. You don't know how much they affect you until they're gone," Meghan Petty said.

Ryan Petty said he'll take the Utah resolution back to Florida to see if it could be implemented there. He said he's grateful for all the kindness shown to him and his family.

"That one dark day has been lightened by all the good and kindness that’s come after that," he said.