Instead of calling her son at 12:01 a.m. Saturday to wish him a happy birthday, like she did each year before 2018, Linda Beigel Schulman celebrated the day with a 5-kilometer run in his honor.
Under a shining sun, some 600 participants walked, jogged and sprinted their way through the race at Heckscher State Park to benefit the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund, which Beigel Schulman launched after her son’s murder.
Scott Beigel, a Dix Hills native, was a geography teacher and cross country coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a job he had gotten just six months before he died protecting his students during the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018.
Beigel was in his classroom when the shooting began and unlocked his door to usher students to safety. As he locked his door, he was shot four times, his mother said.
“I’m very proud of what he did,” she told Newsday. “Of course, I would like him to still be here with me, but there’s no way Scott would have been able to look in the mirror had he not done what he did. … I know my son and he did the right thing.”
Beigel would have turned 40 on Saturday. To honor the day, there also was a "fun run" held for children, and face painting, a balloon animal artist and an ice cream truck.
“This is what he would want us to do,” Beigel Schulman, of Dix Hills, said. “For me, it’s all about the kids. For Scott, it was all about the kids.”
The nonprofit pays to send at-risk youth to summer sleepaway camps to celebrate Beigel’s love of camp. He returned to Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania even after his days as a camper were over, to be a counselor. Through the memorial fund, Beigel Schulman raised $283,000 last year alone and has sent hundreds of children affected by gun violence to camp.
“Every single child that we send to camp has a piece of Scott's heart,” Beigel Schulman said.
Beigel had dreamed of being a teacher since he was young, his mother said. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, his coaching motto was simple: “Just run faster.”
Those words and Beigel’s name were emblazoned on a baton that was passed from runner to runner before ultimately being handed off to Beigel Schulman.
Melisa Rivera, 42, of Huntington, attended the 5k with her family and ran it with her daughter, Pia Olivo-Rivera, 12.
“Activism can feel really scary, but something like this can help people contribute,” Melisa said.
Robbie Liechter, 42, of Fairfield, Connecticut, met Beigel when he was 10 years old at Camp Starlight. He ran the race with his son, Teddy, 10, who now attends the same camp. Liechter said attending the event was a way to respect Beigel’s memory.
Beigel Schulman said that although she was a private person, the race, memorial fund and gun safety advocacy were easy choices to make to preserve her son’s legacy.
“I decided I was not going to mourn Scott's death, I was going to celebrate his life,” she said. “It might sound hokey, but it’s true. The way I mourn Scott's death is to get out and make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.”