PARKLAND (CBSMiami) — On February 13 Christine Hunschofsky was the mayor of a small Broward city that many people would struggle to find on a map. By the afternoon of February 14, Hunschofsky was being interviewed by national media and thrust unexpectedly, like so many, into a national conversation about school safety and mental health issues.
CBS4 News spent a day with Hunschofsky recently as she worked to create change in the aftermath of one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings, help parents who lost their children and safeguard the image of her city.
Her journey began at a morning breakfast of Broward County mayors and realtors, she spent her afternoon consoling and working alongside parents of victims and by late afternoon, she was introducing the Ambassador of New Zealand for a short speech to student activists.
Throughout the day, she remained focused on those who lost so much.
“I can’t even imagine what these families have gone through,” she said.
It is that feeling that leads her to spend hour after hour meeting with families of the shooting victims, working with staff to provide comfort and services to children affected and to protect her city.
“My goal is to keep this community intact,” Hunschofsky said. “To advocate for this community. To advocate for these families.”
Her efforts to bring awareness to mental health issues and to advocate for the causes of the victims, like enhanced school safety and suicide awareness are defining her efforts as she guides this quiet, upscale city of 31-thousand people. It is a city, which is known the world over, for the shooting that took 17 lives, left 17 more injured and affected nearly everyone who calls Parkland home.
That affect was on display at a fundraiser at the Parkland Tennis Center organized by Lori Alhadeff for her group Make Schools Safe.
Lori’s daughter, Alyssa, was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“After February 14, I became a safety activist because I did not want any parents to have to go through the pain and suffering that I go through every day,” Alhadeff said. “I do not want any parent to have their child say to them, ‘Mommy am I going to die today?'”
Alhadeff is working to harden schools with bulletproof doors, bulletproof glass and safe zones in classrooms. At this event, the mayor helped dedicate a tree and a plaque in honor of the victims.
“What they’ve gone through,” Hunschofsky said, “no one should ever have to go through and they’re taking their pain and they’re trying to make a difference in this world to make it better for everybody.”
There was a moment of silence as the families of Alyssa Alhadeff, Meadow Pollack and Gina Montalto came together to remember their children.
“The fact that I can come here and look at this plaque for all 17 victims, it means a lot to me and it touches my heart,” Alhadeff said.
“Words cannot describe the pain that goes through me when I see my daughter’s name and the victims on that plaque,” Pollack said. “It brings it into reality.”
Another reality for Hunschofsky is the concern about finding outlets and safe spaces for the Stoneman Douglas students over summer break. That is why she worked diligently to create a Resiliency Center at Pine Trails Park to give students a safe, inviting place to be when they are away from school. Hunschofsky hopes the Center fills a critical need.
“Trauma doesn’t go away in a day, in a week, that’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said. “It’s important to have those mental health services for the long term.”
She is pushing for funding for mental health services from the state to address this issue for years to come.
It is one of the reasons she is working closely with Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was murdered on February 14. He believes that earlier detection of Nikolas Cruz’s problems could have prevented this violence. Petty also wants this community to address the issue of suicide before students leave for summer.
“During summer break they’re not going to have each other,” he said. “We do not want number 18, 19, 20 to happen and there have been reports already of some students attempting or threatening to attempt suicide.”
Hunschofsky is also working to coordinate opportunities for Stoneman Douglas students. The New Zealand ambassador, Tim Groser, visited Parkland on the day we spent with Hunschofsky to invite dozens of Stoneman Douglas students to his country to work with students there on activism and organizing. He said he was touched by the leadership of the Stoneman Douglas students.
“They were providing a voice of clarity and I just thought it was so impressive as young people and it gives me such confidence in the future of the United States,” Groser said.
At the end of this day, Hunschofsky feels confident that incremental progress has been made — raising money for safer schools, raising awareness of mental health issues and taking steps across this community towards making a difference
“I am hopeful that that response we’re starting to see now, that’s what’s going to define our city,” she said.