PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Anthony Swarzak’s sister went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and his cousins graduated from the school about five years ago. He grew up around there, played against their baseball team and knows their baseball coaches.
So when he looked at his phone Wednesday and saw the images — crying parents, terrified children, a community suddenly ravaged by a mass shooting — it felt like a tragedy in his backyard.
Most people think, “It’s never going to happen here,” the Mets reliever said Thursday, the day after police say 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school, killing 17 — the 18th school shooting since the beginning of this year.
“I’m more interested in stories of the heroes of the day and the people who try to sacrifice [for] others,” he said when asked about the shooter, referencing, in part, assistant football coach and security guard Aaron Feis, who used his body as a human shield and succumbed to his injuries.
Swarzak said he didn’t know the coach, but he knows men like him.
“From what I heard, he was one of those coaches that really did everything he could for every person he came across, every student he tried to mentor and tried to help grow as an adult and a man,” Swarzak said.
“It’s not a coincidence that that type of guy is the person that pays the ultimate sacrifice. Clearly, they have been willing to sacrifice their time and effort to make everybody better. When that type of situation happens, it’s those types of people who are running toward the action. I want his family to know we’re all thinking about them and if there is anything anybody needs, they can reach out.”
Wednesday’s shooting was a dose of grisly realism against the backdrop of the low-stakes world of spring training. The school is about an hour and a half from First Data Field. Swarzak has his ties there, as does Mets minor-leaguer Luis Guillorme, who lives a half-hour away from the school. He went to school about 10 minutes from there, he said.
“It’s crazy that it could happen that close to home,” the infielder said. “I just woke up [from a nap Wednesday] and saw it over my phone. Honestly, the first thing is I really can’t believe this is happening.”
Swarzak called the shooting “humbling. It’s scary. It’s a time to take a step back and reflect on what’s important in our lives, and that’s family . . . This is a sad time we are living in. We all have to find a way to rise above it. Love conquers all. It really does.”