In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, Andrew Pollack emerged as an image of both grief and strength while sharing his heartbreak at a White House listening session.
“I’m pissed. Because my daughter — I’m not going to see her again. She’s not here. She’s not here,” an emotional Pollack told the room in a widely shared clip of the speech. “She’s in North Lauderdale, at whatever it is, King David Cemetery, that’s where I go to see my kid now.”
But that speech almost didn’t happen, Pollack said Tuesday. In fact, he wasn’t scheduled to attend the session at all. The Long Island native was at the White House for a private meeting. When offered the chance to attend the public session afterward, he decided to accept for his daughter, Meadow, 18.
“First somebody murders your kid,” said Pollack, of Coral Springs. “Then you get empowered like you’ve never been before.”
Pollack, 52, has “Long Island running through my veins,” he said. He grew up in Oceanside, where he delivered newspapers as a boy. He graduated from Oceanside High School in 1984 before moving to Florida in 1999.
In the two weeks since a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and began to fire, killing 17 people, Pollack said he’s taken comfort in his Long Island roots. Meadow’s mother, Shara Kaplan, is also from Oceanside.
Relatives and friends still on the Island have reached out, and students he worked with as a lacrosse coach have expressed their condolences. Hofstra’s men’s lacrosse team, where one of his former athletes now plays, sent him a jersey and helmet signed by the team.
“No one stronger than a New Yorker,” Pollack said.
Pollack never imagined he’d be one of the faces of a growing movement against school gun violence, but his face was one of the first to emerge from the scene on Feb. 14 — the Palm Beach Post had a photo of him sitting in his car, holding up a photo of Meadow displayed on his phone.
Pollack was not one of the lucky parents to be reunited with his child. Instead, Meadow was among the dead. She was shot nine times, he said, a fact that weighed heavily on him when he accepted an invitation to meet privately with President Donald Trump on Feb. 21.
Trump expressed his condolences during the 20-minute meeting, Pollack said. Because Trump has children and grandchildren, Pollack said he felt understood.
“Then they said you don’t have to, but we’re doing this listening session and you can come,” he said.
Pollack said he got up and spoke from the heart, in his unmistakable Long Island accent. He hasn’t watched his own speech or any news at all — “It’s too emotional for me to watch that kind of stuff,” he said.
But the New Yorker in him wants to fight and now he has a platform, he said. He’s fighting for school safety and he’s fighting a false sense of safety he said parents today have fallen into.
“I feel like a lion, that someone poked me and they woke me up and I’m angry,” he said. “We have a failed system, every school system has failed.”
Pollack said he’s not interested in the partisan politics of gun-control debates. He calls his views those of “the Human Party,” and he seeks to unify communities to protect children.
He returned to the White House for a meeting Thursday and also plans to visit Tallahassee, where he will show his support for Gov. Rick Scott’s school-safety proposal.
The bill calls for $450 million to fund police officers, metal detectors and bulletproof glass, among other safety upgrades, on school campuses. Scott’s bill would also fund mental-health programs and raise the age to buy a firearm in Florida to 21.
Pollack wants Florida to lead by being proactive about school safety, but he said he wants to see reform in New York next.
“I thought she was safe at school,” he said. “If it can happen to me, a regular guy from Long Island, it can happen to anyone.”