Army awards posthumous medal to JROTC freshman who died helping classmates in Florida shooting
Editor's Note: The following story is being reprinted with the permission of Task and Purpose, which retains all rights. The story was written by Jared Keller, Task and Purpose senior editor, and originally ran on Feb. 16, 2018, on www.taskandpurpose.com. To read the original story, please visit https://taskandpurpose.com/peter-wang-florida-shooting-victim, or see the link to the original at the bottom of this article.
PARKLAND, Fla. -- When an expelled former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, Peter Wang used the last minutes of his life to help save his fellow students.
According to witnesses, the 15-year-old freshman member of the school's JROTC program "was holding a door to let other students out before him" as suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz prowled the halls of his former alma mater, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.
Wang was among the 17 people shot and killed by Cruz. His cousin, Lin Chen, told the Sun-Sentinel that Wang was wearing his standard grey JROTC shirt when he left for school that fateful morning.
"He is so brave," Chen told the newspaper. "He is the person who is genuinely kind to everyone. He doesn't care about popularity. He always liked to cheer people up. He is like the big brother everyone wished they had."
Wang was one of several JROTC students who worked to protect their classmates during the shooting. Seventeen-year-old Colton Haab and his fellow JROTC members hid between 60 and 70 students with Kevlar sheets normally used as marksmanship training backdrops to shield them from gunfire.
Broward County Public High School system's JROTC program boasts an average enrollment of 7,650 students in 28 of its 34 schools annually, and Wang and Haab's responses speak to the discipline and decisiveness they likely learned there. As Haab told CNN: He "[was just] thinking about how I'm going to make sure everyone goes home to their parents safely."
On Tuesday, U.S. Army Cadet Command approved the JROTC Heroism Medal for Wang as well as for the other two JROTC students who died in the shooting -- Alaina Petty and Martin Duque. Wang's family chose to have him buried in his JROTC uniform and medal, so a second "keepsake" medal was given to the family as well.
According to USACC, "The Medal of Heroism is a U.S. military decoration awarded by the Department of the Army (DA) to a JROTC Cadet who performs an act of heroism. The achievement must be an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding that it clearly sets the individual apart from fellow students or from other persons in similar circumstances. The performance must have involved the acceptance of danger and extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage."
USACC also noted that awards for other Cadets who were present during the shooting -- including Haab -- are going through a review process. For now, USACC's immediate focus "is on supporting the funerals with dignity and honor, so deserved by these Cadets and their families," according to Michael Maddox, a USACC spokesperson.