Peter Wang’s final act of heroism — holding the door so his classmates could escape the former student shooting up their school — inspired people from around the world.
His friends and family said the bravery during the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week was a natural act for the 15-year-old U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet, who was always quick with a joke and eager to help others.
Strangers sent his family military patches and coins, the U.S. Army awarded him a Medal of Heroism, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (his dream school) posthumously accepted him, and veterans from around the state showed up to pay their respects at his funeral Tuesday afternoon.
“We thought he should be honored,” said Fred Bellise, part of the dozen or so members of the Patriot Guard that arrived on roaring motorcycles with full-sized American flags mounted on the back. Members came from Delray Beach and Boynton Beach, some from as far away as Fort Myers and Sarasota.
One of Peter’s middle school basketball coaches, 33-year-old Jason Morris, came with his 14-year-old brother, Jevaughn, a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The coach remembered Peter as a supportive team member and joyful person. His sacrifice “just made perfect sense,” for Peter’s character, he said.
“He was very selfless,” Morris said. “One of those people you couldn’t help but be cheerful around.”
Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alan Starr, who runs a youth outreach program, for the U.S. Navy, was among the crowd of veterans that attended in full dress uniform.
“What that kid did was above and beyond what any other kid would do,” he said, clutching one of the red carnations given to mourners as they entered the Kraeer Funeral Home in Coral Springs.
The Army thought so, too. Peter, like his two other JROTC classmates who were among the 17 people killed in the shooting, was awarded a Medal of Heroism. It was pinned to the chest of his crisp JROTC uniform he was buried in on Tuesday afternoon.
His family also learned Tuesday that Peter was posthumously accepted to West Point’s class of 2025, an honor so rare West Point couldn’t recall the last time it happened.
Inside the funeral home, it was standing room only. The walls were lined with flower wreaths, and Peter’s coffin was flanked on both sides by his uniformed JROTC peers.
The ceremony ended with another of his JROTC classmates, a girl with her curly dark hair in a ponytail, singing “Amazing Grace.” After the last note, a single wrenching sob from the crowd broke the silence.
The hearse carrying Peter’s remains, heralded by the Patriot Guard and followed by a stream of mourners, slipped out of the funeral home parking lot just after 2 p.m.
Men in Army fatigues saluted. A stranger from the Olive Garden next door made the sign of the cross. A man in a Harley-Davidson shirt and a bandana put his hand over his heart. And a silent man stood on the corner of the road, holding a fluttering American flag.