When Alaina Petty decided she wanted to join the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, her parents first thought their daughter was just trying to get out of P.E. class.
But Petty’s interest in the Junior ROTC was legit. In her first year with the program, she was named best cadet of the quarter.
Petty brought that same commitment to whatever cause she joined. As part of the “Helping Hands” program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she spent countless hours gutting moldy houses, dragging saltwater logged appliances out of homes and helping Keys residents clean up the disastrous debris left behind by Hurricane Irma.
“She understood her service could bring some measure of happiness to people who had lost everything,” her father Ryan Petty said.
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On Valentine’s Day, her life was cut short by a gunman who entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and killed 17 people, including Alaina. She was 14.
“She was like a diamond in the rough,” said Angelyse Perez, the commander of Alaina’s JROTC Bravo Company.
Perez, an 18-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas, was best friends with Patrick, 17, one of Alaina’s older brothers. She remembers Alaina as “very competitive and very strong.” Within months of joining the team, Alaina had already worked her way up to cadet of the quarter, a competition first introduced this year.
She was about to be bumped to the ‘A’ team of the military colorguard drill team that marched with the American flag. Last month, the team placed third in the county for the first time since 2012.
“She was supposed to compete with me next weekend,” Perez said. “We were gonna bring home a trophy and go to states.”
Vincent Valdes, a 15-year-old Stoneman Douglas student involved in JROTC, said Alaina was always eager to improve. She was his assistant in JROTC and asked for extra training.
You could always find her outside the JROTC room chatting with friends and sporting such a big smile that it brightened his worst days.
“She is the girl who would never frown. You’d always see those braces no matter what, even if she did bad on a quiz she always made light of situations,” he said.
Petty was born on Aug. 22., 2003 in Bellevue, Washington, and lived in Seattle until the age of 10, when she moved to Coral Springs with her parents and three older siblings.
At a memorial service held Monday morning, her sister Meghan said Alaina lived how she died — valiantly — and recited some of the lyrics of one of Alaina’s favorite songs, “Aquí estoy yo” (“Here I Am”) by the Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi:
“Aquí estoy yo para hacerte reír una vez mas / Llenando tu falta de amor, cerrándole el paso al dolor”
(”Here I am to make you laugh one more time / Filling your lack of love, closing the path to pain”)