PARKLAND, Fla. — Tony Montalto, surrounded by family photos at his Parkland home, speaks softly about his daughter, Gina. He recalls her artistic spirit and cheerful, giving nature.
"She was wonderful," he said. "We miss her very much each day."
Answers seem so obvious now as this father thinks about all that has transpired the past four years.
"We look at the school safety triad — enhanced campus security, better mental-health screening and support programs and, finally, should you choose to own one, responsible firearms ownership," he told WPTV.
If only the obvious had been evident before 2018, he and so many others lament.
"And sadly," Montalto said, "all three of those things failed us on Valentine's Day in 2018, when my daughter, Gina, and 16 other wonderful souls were taken from their families and our community."
The searing loss created a determination to greatly improve school safety.
Montalto is president of "Stand with Parkland," a group founded by the families who lost loved ones.
"We saw (in 2018) Republicans and Democrats come together and work across the aisle to craft the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act," he remembered.
Montalto and other Parkland parents were present when then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the act into law.
"It provided money and guidance on how to secure the campus better," Montalto said. "It provided increased funding for mental health programs for our students. It also made the most significant changes to Florida firearms laws in 20 years."
No longer could someone under the age of 21 purchase a firearm. Importantly, too, red-flag laws were adopted.
"Red-flag laws have been very important here in Florida," Montalto said. "They've been used almost 5,000 times in the last four years. They help protect law enforcement as they do their jobs. They help to allow people who are having difficulties to have their weapons removed and allow them a chance to get help."
In 2019, there was more action in Tallahassee as Parkland parents and supportive lawmakers pressed on.
"We saw important things like the creation of the Office of Safe Schools and the work on behavioral threat assessment teams being a requirement here in Florida," Montalto said.
The legislative push continued. In 2020, that included change in the name of another young Parkland shooting victim.
"We did see the alerting system also known as Alyssa's Law passed, and now this is important because it helps add panic alarms to our schools and connect them to emergency services faster," Montalto said.
Then in 2021 came passage of the Parents Need to Know initiative.
"We realized that we didn't know about the threat," Montalto told WPTV. "The mental-health professionals in the area knew there was a threat to the school. The school knew there was a threat to the school. Law enforcement knew there was a threat to the school, but nobody told the parents. So, now it's a requirement under Florida law to have parents notified if there is a threat to the school, school transportation or to school-sponsored events."
It is a constant push for change, a never-ending mission for Montalto as he, his wife and their son honor Gina's life.
"Gina was a great kid," he said. "She was a fantastic daughter, great older sister. You know, she was a straight 'A' student. She was a Girl Scout. She was involved in her church group. We need to honor them and carry on their legacy. As for my family, we always said that Gina would go out and change the world and now, through her message, we're trying to do that."