A mom, a dad, two little brothers, a soccer team, a desk, a box of nail polish, cleats, a silver dress she wore on her bat mitzvah: These are some of the things Alyssa Alhadeff left behind when she was killed on Valentine’s Day.
On Sunday night, her mother, Lori Alhadeff, was sitting on the floor of her daughter’s bedroom. She was wearing Alyssa’s sweatshirt, the one her daughter, who was just 14, had accidentally splattered with bleach. She’s also been wearing her daughter’s black Converse sneakers occasionally, including when she spoke on Feb. 22 at the CNN town hall.
Alyssa’s room was full of signs of high school life, and remained as she left it. Textbooks were strewn about the floor, as were notecards, hairbrushes, markers. On her dresser there were face masks (which she loved) along with a box of nail polish.
A post from Alyssa's Instagram, filmed after Lori "trashed" her daughter's room.
At night, Lori has been gravitating to her daughter’s room. “I feel close to her with her covers and being in her room,” she said.
Lori has slept a “couple hours a night" since Alyssa’s death, which she said hasn’t settled in.
“[I feel like] maybe she’s just out with her friends and she’s going to be coming home soon,” Lori said.
Lori has been spraying herself with her daughter’s Victoria’s Secret perfume, “to remind me of her smell.” She thinks she has lost 10 pounds.
The high school freshman was a talented soccer player, and close to her teammates. She had played soccer since she was 3. The day before she died, her mom said, Alyssa had played the best game of her life.
“Everything came together for her in that game — all her soccer technique and skills were perfect; everything she trained for her whole entire life was magnificent,” she said.
Lori described her daughter as passionate, intelligent, and kind to everyone. She had enrolled Alyssa in a summer camp already, and planned to enroll her in a soccer camp where college scouts would watch her play. During her second year of high school, Alyssa was planning to take classes like Debate 2 and Honors English 2. She was so smart, her mom said, and worked so hard.
The family’s home is now full of countless memorials to Alyssa. One room contains collages of her, many made by her best friend. There’s a blanket with her face on it, and a painting in their kitchen someone made for them as a tribute to Alyssa. In the office area are her soccer trophies. Underneath the TV is art she made when she was about 10, by melting crayons.
At the soccer field where Alyssa practiced, Lori showed BuzzFeed News how her team and community memorialized her on the pavement with messages like “Never Forget” and “R.I.P.” There were prayer candles and a photo of Alyssa wearing a red jersey, a soccer ball tucked in her arm and a huge smile on her face.
Lori got a text from a friend on Valentine’s Day at 2:41 p.m. about a shooting at the high school. She got in her car, drove to the school, parked on a sidewalk, and ran. “I was screaming and I was grabbing myself,” she said. “Because I knew, I needed Alyssa, I needed to help her. I knew she was in trouble. I felt like she was telling me, ‘Mommy, help me, help me — I’m hurt.’”
At one point, Lori ran through yellow tape, and then tried to push through “a big guy with all muscle, with his gun.”
"They pushed me back," she said.
She then waited near the school, at a Marriott hotel from 5 in the evening to 2:30 in the morning. She remembered telling their rabbi at the hotel at 10 p.m. to start planning her 14-year-old daughter’s funeral. He told her to “still have hope.”
Even so, when they heard from officials that Alyssa had died, her mom didn’t believe it until the next morning. "I didn't have 100% closure until I saw her face the next day." At 8 a.m. after picking up her mom, Lori went to the coroner’s office, and looked at a photo of her daughter’s face, as they wouldn’t allow her to see Alyssa's body in person. That’s when she knew, with absolute certainty, that her daughter had died.
There are moments when Lori feels her daughter is with her. She mentioned “a big butterfly” flying past them when her family visited the cemetery, where her husband's yarmulke went “flying off" his head multiple times, which she took as Alyssa "playing with" him. She laughed when she recalled this.
She has watched the music video for Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” a couple times because it reminds her of Alyssa. Alyssa had the same mannerisms as Cyrus — and "her spirit, and her creativity [and] spunk," she said.
“Even with the boy in there,” she said of the music video with a laugh. “Alyssa liked boys a lot.”
She showed me this video, along with videos and slideshows of photos of Alyssa. She has been watching them frequently since her daughter’s death.
“You see her life,” she said. “You see her living.”
Alyssa would have turned 15 on May 1.
Lori has also spent the past three weeks working tirelessly to establish a nonprofit, the name of which she’ll announce soon. When asked how else she has been spending her time, she mentioned her daughter’s headstone and "figuring out what to write on there," she said.
Lori’s eyes filled with tears when she picked up a ziplock bag, full of what was once her daughter’s long hair.
“It was one thing I could still have of her. She had really long beautiful hair,” she said.
Lori cut it herself, before Alyssa was buried.
Remy Smidt is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Remy Smidt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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