SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS community is mourning and praying for the 33 victims of Wednesday's school shooting in Florida, including one Mormon girl who was killed and a second who is on a ventilator in the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an official statement on the tragedy on Thursday.
"Once again we find ourselves as a nation and as communities faced with a tragic loss of life and incomprehensible sorrow following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida," the church's statement said. "Among the many injured or killed were two members of our faith. To all of the victims and their loved ones, we extend our love. These are hours filled with grief, emptiness and a terrible sense of loss. We unite our prayers with millions of others who are mourning and praying for them."
The two girls are members of the same Mormon congregation, the Coral Springs Ward.
Alaina Petty, 14, a freshman involved in the school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, was among the 17 killed in the attack, one of the largest school shootings in U.S. history.
Madeleine Wilford, 17, a junior who was scheduled to play with the school's varsity basketball team in a regional playoff game on Thursday night, was one of 16 wounded. Her coach said in a Facebook post that Wilford, who goes by Maddy, was fighting for her life. Her mother has since reported that Maddy is stable now.
"There are no hashtags for moments like this, only sadness," Claudette McMahon Joshi, Petty’s great aunt, told the Miami Herald. "Our hearts are with them and all the families touched by this tragedy."
The Petty family released a statement Thursday, expressing concern for all the victims of the shooting, their sorrow over the loss of Alaina's life and their faith that they will be reunited with her in the afterlife.
"While we will not have the opportunity to watch her grow up and become the amazing woman we know she would become, we are keeping an eternal perspective," the family said. "We are grateful for the knowledge that Alaina is a part of our eternal family and that we will reunite with her. This knowledge and unabiding faith in our Heavenly Father’s plan give us comfort during this difficult time."
Maddy's mother said in a Facebook post that her daughter was struck by multiple shots from the AR-15 rifle used in the attack. The shots "went through her back, crushing her ribs, piercing her right lung and exiting her stomach. Several went through the shoulder and traveled the length of her right arm before exiting."
Doctors put her on a ventilator because of the collapsed lung. She underwent two surgeries on Wednesday. During a third surgery on Thursday, doctors installed permanent titanium plates to hold her ribs together.
"Doctors are optimistic she will make a strong recovery," said President Stephen Smith, president of the LDS Church's Coral Springs Florida Stake. "She's a fighter. She'll pull through."
Smith has known both girls for years as a member of their same congregation and has children of similar ages, though they attend a different school. Both girls had siblings who were in class at Stoneman Douglas High at the time of the shooting but were unhurt.
Smith said Maddy is outgoing, a leader among her peers.
"She's funny," Emily Cashion, a basketball teammate, told the Sun Sentinel. "She gets along with everyone. She keeps everyone up when we're having bad day or not having a good game."
The team is 15-7 this season. The playoff game is postponed indefinitely.
Maddy's family and friends have rallied to support her as she recovers, Smith said.
Smith was with Alaina's parents when they learned she was dead. He said the Mormon high school students from the area gathered Thursday morning at a church building to support each other, mourn for Alaina and support Maddy. They met with a grief counselor.
"Adults and teenagers grieve in different ways," Smith said. "The teenagers wanted to be together. They're a social bunch."
Smith said the entire region is suffering in the aftermath of the shooting.
"It’s a shock," he said. "No one thinks something like this could have happened in our neighborhood and community."
The south Florida area demonstrated its grit and unity following Hurricane Irma, he said, adding, "We will rally together during this (tragedy), just as we did following the hurricane."
Alaina was in the middle of that. Smith said she was a ringleader when Mormons from the region went to help hurricane victims.
Here is the rest of the Petty family's statement:
"We are heartbroken by the loss we feel in the tragedy that unfolded yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Our hearts go out to the families of all impacted by this tragedy, and our prayers are for their comfort and healing. We wish to thank our family, friends and the community for the love and support demonstrated to our family.71 comments on this story
"It is impossible to sum up all that Alaina was and meant to her family and friends. Alaina was a vibrant and determined young woman, loved by all who knew her. Alaina loved to serve. She served her community through her participation in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas JROTC program and her countless hours of service as a volunteer for the Helping Hands program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Alaina was part of hundreds of volunteers that rushed to the most heavily impacted areas of Florida to clean up and help rebuild the lives of those devastated by Hurricane Irma. Her selfless service brought peace and joy to those that had lost everything during the storm."