MOUNT WASHINGTON – A New York couple, dressed in matching white shirts in memory of their son, have left East Street here, in an unfamiliar town. Their transmission has downshifted for the long, steep journey down a rugged dirt road that leads to an idyllic 1,000-acre summer camp their son is said to have run over.
Their son, Scott Beigel, was 35 in 2018, when a gunman walked into a high school in Parkland, Fla., And started shooting.
As alarms went off and screams echoed through the stairwell from the lower floors, Beigel quickly brought more than 30 students to the safety of his classroom where he was teaching geography. When the 19-year-old shooter, a former student, emerged on the third floor, he spied on an easy target.
From 5 feet away, he fired six rounds from a semi-automatic rifle into the body of Scott Jeffrey Beigel. A beloved son, a cross country trainer, a brother, a grandson, a boyfriend, Beigel collapsed at his classroom door.
His last words were a lie. He told the shooter that there was no one inside.
He was one of 17 people killed inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that day, Valentine’s Day.
“I have no problem talking about it,” said her mother, Linda Beigel-Schulman, as she sat on a wooden bench at Camp Hi-Rock here on Mount Washington. “I like to talk about my son.
A boy who loved the camp
Scott was 7 when his mother first put him on a bus and sent him to a camp to sleep.
The odds of a bet between family members were that the shy, skinny boy wouldn’t get on the bus. Yet he did. The door closed behind him, and he was taken from his Long Island, New York home to the woods of Pennsylvania, where he was transformed.
From that first summer, a puny kid in a lower bunk, Scott would spend every summer for the rest of his short life going to summer camp, as a camper and then as an instructor.
Within days of Scott’s murder, his mother, Linda, had come to a conclusion. She would refuse to spend the rest of her life irreversibly shaken by grief and bitterness. Instead, she would strive to honor her son by promoting one thing that is dear to her: helping underprivileged children have the same experience he had as a child.
With a clear goal and no clear way to achieve it, Linda and her husband, Michael Schulman, founded the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund to provide an overnight camp for children who could not afford it, especially those who live in neighborhoods affected by gun violence.
Much to the couple’s relief, they were introduced to the Astoria, NY-based SCOPE group. [Summer Camp Opportunities Promote Education], who has been engaged in the same mission for 30 years now.
The fund raised $ 92,000 in 2019, which enabled 54 children to attend three camps in upstate New York. In 2020, with camps closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the fund donated $ 25,000 to support a virtual camp program.
For this year, through appeals and events in New York and Florida, Scott’s parents raised $ 217,600, enough to send 165 children to camp. Three of the camps are in New York. Two are in New Jersey. And the sixth is this, Camp Hi-Rock.
On August 16, Linda and Michael visited the campers and staff here.
They met 11-year-old Jonah Thomas from Stratford, Connecticut, a city on Long Island Sound that struggles with poverty and crime. At Camp Hi-Rock this summer for a period of four weeks, he slept in the woods and tasted s’mores, both for the very first time.
“They taste so good, “he said.” When I get home, I’m going to show it to my sister. … We can do them.
They met Julien Beliard, also 11, of Stamford, Connecticut, who has a new love: paddleboarding.
“This camp is: whatever you want to do, you do it,” he said. “Summer here is the best.”
They met Julien’s sister, Adrianna, 15, who has grown to love paddleboarding, Zumba, and the arts and crafts.
“They have so much to do here that I can’t do at home,” she said, “and I’ve made so many friends here, and they teach you to express yourself and be more of me. -same. They just make us feel special.
Jessica Speer-Holmes, executive director of Camp Hi-Rock, which is part of the YMCA, said about 30% of the 200 campers here this summer have benefited from scholarships such as those paid by the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund. She said that for many campers, this is the first time they’ve been exposed to people of other races and backgrounds.
“Children learn that people who may be different from them are not the enemy,” she said. “They come here, and they all become children together.”
Linda and Michael were all smiles as they toured the camp.
After lunch, Adrianna left for a creative writing class.
“Let’s try something new,” she said, before running off.
For the Schulmans, for SCOPE, the crucial point is that the summer camp is not just a unique experience. Rather, camp should be something children want to go back to every year.
“There is nothing not to like,” said Linda. “You can leave the house. Some of these children have never learned to swim until now. It’s the first time they’ve seen a real horse. They come to a place where the stress is gone. They don’t have to act hard. They don’t have to join a gang.
“They come and they learn that there is another way,” she said. “They learn kindness. They learn to take care of themselves and others and to be trustworthy. They learn that there is a whole amazing world out there. And the thing is, they take it home. They take it all home. It changes everything. “
The camp changed Scott.
She knew it would.
One of the biggest challenges getting him on the bus that summer when he was 7 was the camp’s requirement that all children write a letter home once a week. Scott didn’t want to have to write letters at home. So Linda developed a creative workaround.
She herself addressed eight stamped envelopes for the eight weeks he would be absent. She provided him with eight sheets of paper, one for each week. Each sheet of paper had the same list of questions to be answered. Such as: FOOD IS… CHILDREN ARE…
All he had to do was fill in the bubbles, GOOD or BAD or HORRIBLE. Etc.
And that is what he did. He dutifully filled the bubbles, folded each sheet in thirds, stuck it in the envelope, and sealed the envelope closed. Ended.
Scott returned from camp changed: confident and outgoing. Each year, he returned home to Dix Hills on Long Island, a little more caring for others, a little more attentive to his responsibilities. He was careful to make friends with the quietest in the school, those who ate alone in the cafeteria.
He ultimately chose to become a teacher for the simple reason that he might have summers off to continue as a camp counselor in Pennsylvania.
The son who dreaded the idea of having to write home became a young man who went to see his mother almost every day.
In early 2018, she found a stack of these original letters he had sent from the camp. She gave them to Scott, just for a laugh. He loved them.
The day before Valentine’s Day, she received a letter from him. He had sent her one of the original letters from the camp, but this time he had added handwritten responses, such as “Camp is great” and “The food is edible” and “I like not being home. and be laughed at by my sister ”.
And he signed it, “Love, Scott.”
The next day, at 2 p.m., Linda had not heard from Scott. She knew something was wrong.
She and her husband, Michael, work at the same law firm. But, on Valentine’s Day, Michael was sick at home. When he learned that there had been a school shooting in Parkland, he called Linda and asked her to come home.
On her way home, she heard on the radio that one of the victims was a geography teacher.
At Scott’s funeral on February 18, 2018, at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Fla., Linda arrived with the bright blue lunchbox she had given Scott when she sent him to camp for the first time. She was the last to speak to the full house – the whole family together, including Scott’s sister, Melissa; Scott’s friends and colleagues, including former campers and camp leaders; to Scott’s girlfriend, Gwenn Gossler; and many of those 31 students whose lives he saved in room 1256 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Linda told the mourning rally that when she learned of Scott’s death, she texted him anyway. She wrote how amazing he was and that “everyone you touched will never be the same”. She ended the text with: “Please let me know where you are. Mom.”
While walking around Camp Hi-Rock, greeting happy campers, Linda said she knows where her son is.