Parkland shooting survivor kills herself because of ‘survivor’s guilt,’ parents say

Sydney Aiello
Sydney Aiello GoFundMe Screengrab

A week after Sydney Aiello graduated from her Parkland high school last June, the teen shared a suicide awareness post encouraging others to check on those friends who “seem the strongest,” citing the publicized celebrity suicides of Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

“Asking for help is not a weakness,” the shared message said, with the hashtag, “#thislifeneedsyouinit.”

Aiello was on campus Feb. 14, 2018, the day a gunman killed 17 people — including her best friend — and injured another 17 after opening fire with a semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

After the shooting, grief counselors and fluffy therapy dogs consoled traumatized students, including Aiello.

But the therapy could only help so much. Last Sunday, the 19-year-old took her life. The Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office told NBC News that Aiello died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Her family said she killed herself because of survivor’s guilt. She had recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aiello’s funeral took place Friday. Other than to confirm that she took her life, the parents shared no further comment.

One of the ways Aiello coped after the Parkland shooting was through yoga. She had been a member of the school’s yoga program prior to the shooting and then underwent rigorous training to become a certified yoga instructor last summer in Costa Rica.

“When she came in, I could see PTSD from, ‘Hello,’ ” said Jody Weiner, a yoga instructor who opened Zen Loft Yoga in Coconut Creek in August, offering free classes to teens with trauma. “I didn’t get to spend enough time with her.”

Stoneman Douglas yoga instructor Amy Kenny had a close relationship with Aiello, likening herself to the teen’s “yoga mom.” The two regularly texted, Aiello referring to Kenny as her “second mother” in one text.

Kenny, who posted a Facebook tribute to her student on Tuesday, called her a “true healer and wonderful human.”

“I thought it was clear you always had a place to go to feel safe. I’m searching my mind and soul for a why....” Kenny wrote in the post. “Being your teacher and mentor was a gift. Watching you grow into an incredible woman & yoga teacher was one of my life’s greatest joys. I cried tears of joy watching you teach your first class and now I can’t stop crying tears of sorrow at your tragic loss.”

Sydney Aeillo/Facebook

Among the victims of the shooting was Aiello’s longtime friend, Meadow Pollack. Aiello was also friends with Joaquin Oliver, 17, another student killed in the shooting. She wrote lovingly about both on her social media following their deaths.

On the day after the shooting, she posted a tribute to the victims. She included a yearbook entry Meadow wrote to her in fourth grade (“You are the key 2 my heart!!!”), thanked Oliver for making her laugh during class and expressed gratitude to Aaron Feis, a security guard and assistant football coach at MSD, who routinely welcomed students at an exterior gate and died trying to protect them.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate Sydney Aiello marched on Washington, D.C., following the shooting at her Parkland school to raise awareness for the movement to end gun violence through stricter gun laws. Sydney Aiello/Facebook

Meadow’s father, Andrew Pollack, told the Herald that his “heart goes out to those poor, poor parents.”

“It’s terrible what happened. Meadow and Sydney were friends for a long, long time,” Pollack said. “Killing yourself is not the answer.”

Pollack added: “If anyone feels like that they have no one that can understand their pain, if there’s any student out there that’s having a hard time, please reach out to me on Twitter. I understand you. You aren’t alone.”

Hunter Pollack, Meadow’s brother, wrote on Twitter, “Beautiful Sydney with such a bright future was taken from us way too soon. My friend’s sister and someone dear to Meadow.”

Aiello found hope in the activism of the Parkland students, who organized the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., about six weeks after the shooting, drawing hundreds of thousands.

Aiello went to Washington with her classmates, calling for reforms to the nation’s gun laws.

“Our generation demands a change,” she wrote on Facebook alongside photos of her holding signs that read, “Never Again” and “Not One More.”

A GoFundMe page dedicated to the Aiello family has raised $65,032 as of Saturday. On the fundraising page, created Wednesday, people described Aiello as someone who “filled her days cheerleading, doing yoga, and brightening up the days of others.”

“Sydney spent 19 years writing her story as a beloved daughter, sister and friend to many,” her family wrote. “She lit up every room she entered. Sydney aspired to work in the medical field helping others in need.”

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.
Martin Vassolo covers the politics and government of Miami Beach for the Miami Herald. He began working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter on the Herald’s metro desk and a political reporting intern.