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Vigil

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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Residents read the names of all Charleston and Orlando victims, who each had a candle lit in their memory. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

On Friday evening, a diverse group of pastors and residents showed that, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, there is more good in the world than evil.

They gathered together at the Mount Sinai Congregational Church to honor the nine churchgoers who were killed a year ago in a shooting spree during a peaceful Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the 49 killed in an all-too-similar fashion in a gay nightclub in Orlando last week. While both massacres are products of hatred and bigotry, those who attended Friday’s service united under a theme of love and acceptance.

The service of remembrance was organized by the Mount Sinai church and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket, where a North Shore family related to one of the nine people shot and killed go regularly and last year’s service for victims was held. Just a week after 21-year-old Dylann Roof sat down in a Charleston church, participated in the readings, engaged with others, and ultimately stood up to open fire and take lives, the Three Village community showed up in droves to pay respects.

Greatly touched by the healing that took place, Bethel AME pastor Rev. Gregory Leonard and Mount Sinai resident Tom Lyon were quick to ensure this year’s anniversary service and, in light of another mass murder, a call for unity and support seemed necessary now more than ever.

Willie White, a Setauket resident, holds up a picture of his second cousin, a victim in the Charleston shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding
Willie White, a Setauket resident, holds up a picture of his second cousin, a victim in the Charleston shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s important that people of goodwill come together,” Leonard said to the intimate and emotional crowd. “We have to build bridges and get to know each other. As I press on in years, I think about the legacy that we will leave, and I hope all of us can say at one point that we were building some bridges, we came together and we cared and didn’t just let a moment pass us by.”

Setauket church member Willie White held up a picture of his cousin, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, one of the victims in Charleston, and spoke at length about dealing with a tragedy that hits so close to home.

His family in Charleston had to wait hours after news broke of the shooting before they knew anything, he said, reduced to unbearable panic trying to call and get hold of their loved one, who would soon be confirmed as one of the fallen.

He called to action the importance of not seeing one another as different, saying that we are capable of avoiding future tragedies if we stand together. This is something he notices often in the aftermath of a traumatizing incident.

“I saw people of all walks of life hugging each other,” White said. “Why can’t we live like that every day? On that particular night, Charleston changed. The people changed. Unfortunately, it took nine lives for a change. I’m sure there’s gonna be a change in Florida. But look how many lives it took. We can think back on so many lives that have been taken with guns. And still, guns are on the market.”

Emotionally battered and certainly passionate about a need for change, Shahina Chaudry, a Muslim from the area, stood up and explained that her brother was among the 67 people killed by terrorists in the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, and she understands exactly what the grieving families are going through.

“May God be with them, may God make them strong,” she said. “And may there be big, big changes in this country and may we all be part of those changes. I’m happy to be with all of you.”

A resident named Ira Apsel then stood up and faced Chaudry, offering his condolences.

“An old Hebrew prayer is ‘shalom aleichem,’ meaning ‘peace be with you’, and the response is ‘aleichem shalom,’ meaning ‘and also with you’… Shalom aleichem.”

“Aleichem shalom,” Chaudry responded.

Apsel composed himself as much as possible when he said that everybody has so much in common, and the evil in society must not be allowed to keep everybody apart. Leonard helped solidify this notion by leading the church in a sing-along of “This Little Light of Mine” before the names of each and every victim of Charleston and Orlando were read and honored with lit candles.

Before the service ended and people took time to commiserate with each other, Mount Sinai pastor Ron Wood drove home the importance of acceptance.

“Places where you gather with others like you, essentially, are sanctuaries,” he said. “Where you can be who you are without judgment. Pulse was a sanctuary. AME Church was a sanctuary. A sanctuary isn’t a place to escape. It’s a place to be strengthened and nurtured.”

As everybody filed out of the church, they were holding each other, laughing and smiling, and appearing even more unified than they were upon entering only an hour or so prior. In the wake of a tragedy that should destroy all hope and joy, the Mount Sinai Congregational Church was certainly a place to be strengthened and nurtured.

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