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Scott Beigel

 

By Karen Forman

Hundreds of students, parents, grandparents and politicians rallied outside Huntington Town Hall this Saturday to honor the lives of the Parkland school shooting victims and call for the implementation of stricter gun control measures.

The March for Our Lives Long Island held March 24, founded by 16-year-old Huntington students Avalon Fenster and Sara Frawley, was one of the more than 800 rallies that sprung up across the country as part of the national movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“In the short term, we want to honor the lives lost in Parkland and all the school shootings since Columbine,” Fenster said. “In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority.”

“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home.”
— Julia Fenster

The event was kicked off with a performance by Dan Krochmal, an Australian-born singer now residing in New York City, who wrote a song in support of the movement titled “Pride Before the Fall.” Featured speakers included student organizers, local politicians and family members of the Parkland shooting victims.

“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home,” said Julia Fenster, Avalon’s mom, and the founding chairperson of March for Our Lives Long Island. “Where parents saying goodbye to their children in the morning don’t fear it is the final goodbye. Where teachers only need to worry about teaching and not about being a human shield.”

Melissa Beigel, the sister of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, spoke at the rally. Beigel was a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was shot and killed while attempting to lock his classroom door to protect students.

Avalon Fenster publicly called for politicians to pass stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the shootings. The student organizer acknowledged that U.S. citizens are entitled the right to bear arms but highlighted that there is a significant difference between colonial-era rifles and assault rifles.

“People forget that the 2nd Amendment was created in colonial times when they used a rifle that only shot about two bullets in three minutes,” she said. “Now we have automatic weapons that can shoot 140 rounds in three minutes. We are not trying to abridge people’s rights, but we do think that human life should take priority over material ownership and convenience of that ownership.”

“All you students, your voices count. Fight for change.”
— Paul Guttenberg

Rally organizers took turns reading the names of all the people who have been killed in a mass shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. This somber act caused a quiet hush to sweep over those gathered.

Former U.S. Rep Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who left office in January 2017, spoke about the voting behavior of elected officials he witnessed while in office.

“I spent 16 years watching people in Congress voting no for laws that would have kept us safe,” Israel said. “Each time I kept thinking that this time would be different, but they kept voting no. They didn’t want to let down their [National Rifle Association] voters.”

Among the signs carried by rally participants included “NRA profits are bathed in the blood of our children.” Israel has written a 320-page book titled “Big Guns,” a comical novel about the firearms industry and Washington politics, which is currently scheduled to be published in April.

“If adult politicians can’t keep you safe, you vote against them,” he said, to which the crowd responded with “vote them out.” “Change is coming and you are our change. We are going to make the world safe again.”

Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, uncle of slain 14-year-old Parkland student Jaime Guttenberg, took to the stage to publicly address a crowd for the first time.

“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them. Now we have to be their voices.”
— Max Robins

“She will never get to go to college, get married or have children of her own because of assault rifles,” he said. “Mass shooting can happen in any town in this country. We have to stop gun violence in this country and ban assault rifles.”

Guttenberg encouraged those students at the rally to use the rally’s momentum to keep pushing for stricter gun legislation.

“All you students, your voices count,” he said. “Fight for change.”

Isabelle Kaufman, a 16-year-old student at Half Hollow Hills East, echoed his sentiments as she spoke to those gathered about the need to hold the federal government and elected officials accountable.

“All of this happened because of a 19-year-old who couldn’t be trusted to purchase alcohol, but he was allowed to purchase an assault rifle,” she said. “Students should go to school in fear of taking a test, not in fear of their lives.”

The crowd, moved by the speeches, took up the chant of “No more silence. No more violence.”

Max Robins, a member of the March for Our Lives Long Island group, concluded the two-hour rally with a motivating speech and call to action.

“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them,” Robins said. “Now we have to be their voices. And we are the voice that will not be silenced. We will not be forgotten.”

Residents at the Town of Huntington's vigil for Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Scott Beigel was a beloved teacher, coach and son, and on Feb. 14, he became a hometown hero.

The Florida school shooting hit close to home for Huntington residents, who joined together inside Town Hall March 14 for a candlelight vigil in honor of the Dix Hills native. Beigel died protecting students from danger as a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Beigel, 35, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills East, was one of 17 killed during the tragedy. He was shot while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Beigel had only been teaching at Parkland for six months, but also served as the high school’s cross-country coach.

“[Scott] was a hero not just on the day he died but every day of his life, to his students and the people whose lives he often helped,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We have unfortunately seen these incidents happen far too many times … but I do truly believe that Scott’s death and what happened in Parkland is something that will change this country. His heroism will change our country and save many, many lives. That will be his legacy.”

Michael Schulman and Linda Beigel Schulman. Photo by Kevin Redding

During the ceremony, Beigel was remembered for his “goofball” sense of humor, selflessness and a true love for his job and the students he taught.

Prior to working in Florida, he was a camp counselor and division leader at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania and a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children in South Africa.

Half Hollow Hills Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said in honor of Beigel, students at the local high schools have implemented a 17 acts of kindness initiative to improve the culture of their environment and make an effort to prevent another senseless tragedy from occurring.

“Scott was a new teacher, only six months into his tenure, and already making a difference every day for his students,” Harrigan said. “As an educator, it is my hope that Mr. Beigel’s lasting legacy is as a child advocate, a teacher, a coach and an inspiration to other teachers to always improve the lives of their students and the children in their communities.”

Looking up at a large photo of her son, Beigel’s mother Linda Beigel Schulman held back tears and said, “I love you Scott … you will forever be my inspiration and hero.”

She called to action the need for gun control legislation including universal background checks before purchasing a firearm; a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and an increase in the minimum gun-buying age from 18 to 21. She also commended students who participated in the National School Walkout.

“We need action now and we will continue to be heard,” Beigel Schulman said. “When Scott was a child and came home from school, I worried about what kind of a day he would have; I did not worry about if he was going to come home from school.”

Beigel Schulman then turned to look upon a photograph of her son again.

“You may have died senselessly, but as I stand here today, I can honestly say not in vain,” she said. “It has been one month and I promise I will not stop until no child ever has to fear going to school, being with their friends at school and learning from their teachers [at school].”

A street sign that will rename Hart Place in honor of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) unveiled the new street sign renaming Hart Place, where Beigel grew up and where his parents still reside, to become Scott J. Beigel Way.

Tragedies such as Parkland, Lupinacci said, “especially touch home when you have someone that grew up here, went to the high school, went to many of the same stores we go to … We thought it very fitting for where he grew up and spent his formative years to be renamed in his honor.”

The supervisor said a proper ceremony for the street renaming will take place in the upcoming weeks.

“We just want Scott’s voice and legacy to live on — we don’t want him to ever be forgotten,” said Melissa Zech, Beigel’s sister. “I think he would be so proud and I know we’re so proud of him. ― He was so smart, quick-witted, caring and loving. These are things I wish I would’ve told him when he was here.”

Michael Schulman, Beigel’s father, also spoke of the honor.

“This took us all by surprise,” he said. “It’s a great acknowledgement of what this town meant to him, and what he meant to the town. Right now, the street sign is something that’s bittersweet, but, in the years to come, it’ll just be sweet. I just wish we didn’t have to have it.”

Huntington Town Board is expected to formally vote on renaming Hart Place in Beigel’s memory at its March 20 meeting. Lupinacci also said the new street sign would be put on public display for area residents to see.

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