By Bill Finley
Two sons of Florida-based trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, were unharmed when a shooter stormed into the high school Wednesday and killed 17 people. However, Vaccarezza said it was a tough time for his children, particularly Nick, whose close friend Joaquin Olivier was among those murdered.
Nick is a senior at the school and the other son, Mike, is a sophomore. The trainer said Olivier and some other shooting victims were at his house only a few days earlier.
“Nick is having a tough time,” Vaccarezza said. “Some of these kids were at my house only a few days ago. They liked to come over and hang out with Nicholas. This kid who died, he was Venezuelan. His family had immigrated to the U.S. when he was little and he would come to me and tell me it was his dream to be an American citizen. He got his citizenship three days ago.”
Vaccarezza said his oldest son also knew the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who was in his same senior class before being expelled.
Once his children returned to the safety of their home they told their father of a scene they will never forget.
“They saw the shooting and they saw mayhem,” he said. “When the fire alarm went off everyone was running and they were trampling bodies all over the place. There were 17 casualties, and a lot of people were wounded. People got shot, in the arm, the leg, they kept going. So many people had no chance, especially with caliber of gun the guy had.”
Vaccarezza is the co-owner of Frank & Dino’s in Boca Raton and has planned a fundraiser to be held at the restaurant on Sunday, Feb. 25 from 2-9 p.m.
“We’re closing the restaurant that day and there will be free food, free beverages, free alcohol,” he said. “It is a fundraiser and everything we take in will go to the families. Everybody is welcome and we hope people will come and donate.”
Nicholas is the racing enthusiast among the two brothers and spends much time at his father’s barn. He says he has made many friends on the backstretch and several reached out to Carlo to offer their sympathies and to see if there were anything they could do to help.
“He is a very well-liked kid around the racetrack,” Vaccarezza said. “Kiaran McLaughlin, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, Chuck Simon, they all sent messages. They said that if any way it would help Nick he could come around their barns any time he wanted to say hello. The entire racing community been very supportive.”
While Vaccarezza doesn’t lose sight of the fact hat his family was among the lucky ones, that his children came home from high school alive, he knows it will take a long time to heal.
“It’s a tough road ahead,” he said. “I think my kids are strong but they’re still just kids. You see shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook, at the school in Kentucky, you feel sorry for the families. But when it happens in your back yard, at your school, to your kids, it’s different. You have no idea how it feels. I am a really strong guy. I was raised on the streets of New York. I can handle a lot of pain and suffering. But I felt so guilty I couldn’t be there to protect them. Of course there’s nothing I could have done, but I still felt so guilty. I couldn’t sleep last night, so I just went to the barn. Go there at three in the morning.”