Broward County

Douglas teacher Scott Beigel remembered for his wit and heroism

Student remembers teacher as 'So nice. So caring'

Isabella Vanderlaat, 15, student of Scott Beigel, the 35 year-old geography teacher who was killed during the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, talks about Beigel after the funeral service in Boca Raton.
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Isabella Vanderlaat, 15, student of Scott Beigel, the 35 year-old geography teacher who was killed during the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, talks about Beigel after the funeral service in Boca Raton.

They told stories. They hugged. They cried.

Hundreds came to Temple Beth El in Boca Raton on Sunday to remember Scott Beigel, one of the 17 people murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14, 2018.

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Beigel, 35, who taught geography and also coached cross-country running, was remembered for his sarcasm, wit and the heroism that characterized his actions long before he died selflessly protecting students from the gunman.

“I truly believe he was dedicated to helping his fellow man,” his father, Michael Schulman, said to the packed temple. “Scott will always be my hero,” he said to the many who sobbed throughout the service.

The funeral, which was live-streamed on the temple’s website, was one of several held Sunday to remember the lives cut short by a lone gunman at the Parkland high school. Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to kill 14 students and three teachers.

Beigel died just after opening his classroom door and letting in students hiding from the shooter.

Ty Thompson, principal at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, has a message for students of his school. "I promise you I will hug each and every one of you as many times as you need."

Before the two-hour service began, Beigel’s friends, colleagues and students lined up to hug his family. Two large bouquets of white flowers flanked his photo. His coffin was draped with a black cloth adorned with a white Star of David.

Rabbi Greg Weisman called Beigel’s life an “Unfinished Symphony,” a reference to Franz Shubert’s piece that was never completed.

“To Scott, everyone mattered first,” he said.

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Isabella Vanderlaat and Gabriella Benzeken, both 15, were among the many students who attended Sunday’s funeral at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton for Scott Beigel, the 35-year-old geography teacher killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Then the stories came from his sister, uncle, cousin, camp friends, colleagues and parents.

His sister Melissa Zech held back tears as she spoke lovingly about her brother — and directly to her brother.

“You never realized how amazing you were,” she said. “I love you forever from the bottom of my heart.”

Fiancée Gwen Gossler, who met Beigel at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania, where both were counselors seven years ago, said she never met anyone like him before.

“It was his humor that made me fall for him,” she said.

Tanzil Philip, a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, vocalizes his frustration with the lack of discussion around introducing new gun control legislation, days after the Parkland mass shooting.

It was also his humor — and personality — that landed him a job at Douglas High School six months ago, Assistant Principal Denise Reed said.

“Six months, and look what he’s done and the people who he’s touched,” his father said later.

But it was camp that helped shape him, his friends and family said. For nearly three decades, Beigel, who studied education at the University of Miami, went to the Pennsylvania camp, first as a camper and then as a leader.

As she held up a blue lunchbox emblazoned with Beigel’s name, his mother, Linda Schulman, recalled packing it with “fill-in-the-bubble” notes before sending her son to camp. She knew he wasn’t thrilled about having to write letters home and thought this would make the task easier. She also included stamps and pre-printed blue return labels — one of which she wore on her jacket at the service. Others also wore the labels.

On Feb. 13, the day before the shooting, Schulman received one of the letters in the mail from her now-grown son. He had filled out the bubbles and even included a few jokes. To answer the question “the food is…” he answered “what I eat when I am hungry.”

She decided to write him a letter back.

“You are my rock and my go-to guy,” she said. “I am so proud of you.”

The family has set up the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund in Beigel’s honor. The fund will provide scholarships to send children, who couldn’t otherwise afford it, to camp. Contributions can be made to 8 Hart Place, Dix Hills, NY, 11746 or email lbeigel@mbslegal.com.

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