Harness racing rallies to comfort Douglas student
February 23, 2018
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February 14, 2018, started off like any day, like any Valentine’s Day. A day much known for its celebration of friendships and relationships was suddenly broken in Parkland, FL at around 2:30 PM. On that Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a school was broken.
Families and friendships became broken as a result of a senseless act of violence. Historically, in the wake of tragedy, people come together as a support network for others. Across the county, state, and country, people have helped aid the victims and the families of the victims with donations. A memorial covers the front lawn of Stoneman Douglas High School full of flowers, cards, posters, gifts, and more to commemorate those that lost their lives on Wednesday. GoFundMe accounts for those affected have raised a grand total of nearly $2 million. Vigils have been held in Parkland, FL, at other Broward County schools, and at universities across the state. Students are protesting the crime that occurred at the school and are working together to make a change. The world has sent prayers and messages to Stoneman Douglas High, in an attempt to aid the healing process. All over, people have come together to support this cause.
The harness racing world itself is a closely integrated network of horsemen, in which news spreads like wildfire. Upon hearing about the situation of a horseman’s daughter, Kayla Schaefer, there was outpouring support for the family. Other horsemen had family members involved throughout that day. Trainer and driver Rick Schaut’s son, Rick, is a police officer with the neighboring City of Coral Springs Police Department. Rick was one of the first to arrive on scene. Son of Dan and Ann-Marie Daley, Dan Daley is the vice mayor of Coral Springs and played a major part in maintaining the peace in his city as well as speaking to the world on the issue at hand. Fellow long-time horseman Jamie Marra is a Special Agent with The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the state’s criminal investigative agency. Miami region FDLE special agents were part of the mutual aid response to the school.
Jeff and Marie Schaefer are horsemen in the harness racing business. Jeff Schaefer is also a blacksmith for many horsemen around the track. Jeff and Marie have two kids; Eliott Schaefer, a Stoneman Douglas alumni and current college student, and Kayla Schaefer, a junior at Stoneman Douglas..
Kayla Schaefer was in class like any other day. Although, today was not only Valentine’s Day, but also her birthday. "Kayla was texting us from her class as the shooter was advancing through the hallway," Kayla’s mother, Marie Schaefer iterates. "We called 911 and the police were using us to ask her where she was exactly and what she was hearing to attempt to locate and capture the shooter.
"The authorities reached the building and started by carrying the injured students out on their shoulders. No parent is truly prepared to deal with horrific events, such as the ones the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas had experienced, but we are focused on healing," said Marie.
"The first thing we did was turn off the TV. We went to counseling sessions organized by the schoolboard on Thursday. We met many amazing counselors and Kayla was able to spend time with her friends there. Then, we attended various events where, again, the community and friends held hands, cried, and prayed. It was and it has been a difficult time. Our children and our community saw and experienced so much.
"We attended Carmen Schentrup’s funeral this week as well. Carmen was in AP psychology with Kayla when the event occurred. I used to work with her mom, April, as she was my Assistant Principle at West Hollywood Elementary," Marie said.
"We went to the vigil, a generously donated free acupuncture session from a local provider to relieve trauma and stress, and to the mall for retail therapy.
"She [Kayla] has been spending time with friends and family. We went to church, we celebrated her birthday last Sunday at the Melting Pot, and we keep focusing on happy and healing activities."
Prior to that Wednesday, Kayla had been asking her parents for a Jack Russell puppy. Now, her parents, Jeff and Marie Schaefer, had agreed to getting him or her. "We decided on getting another dog to bring some joy to Kayla’s life who was not sleeping well and had flashbacks of what she had just survived," Marie said. However, finding specifically a Jack Russell puppy in a nearby location had been nearly impossible.
However, a group of horsemen found it in their hearts to embark on this tough mission. After a night at the races, standing at the edge of the track, five horsemen got the ball rolling on this endeavor. Those contributing to this cause include Cheri Clarke, Jamie Marra, Maggie and Marianne Audley, and Dr. Stacy Furgang.
Cheri Clarke first initiated the conversation and told the group that the Schaefer’s had agreed to look for a Jack Russell puppy. Cheri is married to horseman trainer Edgar (Sparky) Clarke. The couple has a close relationship with the Schaefer family.
Jamie Marra also shares his birth date with Kayla. He has worked in public service for 28 years. Marra is a lifetime horseman and one of the top amateur drivers. He is a licensed trainer, driver, and owner in the harness racing business since 1983. He is currently driving in the Florida Amateur Drivers Club (and also former past president of the club), in which donates money to various charities every month. Marra has been actively involved in charity work throughout his life and was quick to act when he heard Kayla asked for a puppy.
"It [the puppy] was tough to find, but it was such an easy decision to make to help find her," he said.
After hours and miles of searching, many pictures and calls later, Jamie Marra found a Jack Russell puppy, a perfect match to what Kayla had wanted. Yet, the puppy was found eight hours from the receiving home and would need a ride. Marianne Audley offered to drive north of her farm to pick up the puppy and then, drive the remaining hours to South Florida. Marianne Audley is mother to Maggie Audley, a family of horsemen in the harness racing business.
"We made the decision to help find this puppy and get the puppy from its initial home to its new home because we knew how many people were affected and it was just something small to help the Schaefer family," Maggie Audley says. "Jamie had called us and said that the Schaefer’s were looking for a puppy for their daughter to help her get through the traumatic experience and asked us to put the word out on the search. Mom drove up and picked up the puppy, made sure the puppy was well-cared for and good to go. We, then, made the hand off to the Yoder’s to be taken to Kayla."
The calls that had been made by Jamie Marra had spanned as far as Missouri. "Jamie deployed a whole task force spanning several states and spent countless hours on the phone to find Kayla her therapy dog. When Jamie mentioned the search to Troy Walker (Special Agent in Charge of the FDLE Miami Regional Operations Center) he set up an effort that included several FDLE agents across the state to deliver the puppy to Kayla," Marie said. "This outpouring of love and generosity is truly humbling." Troy Walker had begun organizing the delivery of the puppy using FPL Lee agents across the state.
There is a tightknit community between Jamie, Marianne, and JD in which they were all neighbors up at the farm at Gilchrist Training Center in Bell, Florida. At the last minute, they decided instead of having the puppy handed off to too many people, Marianne and JD would do the transport, with Cheyenne caring for the puppy on the long drive. And so, the puppy was sent down with a horseman already traveling south to race at Pompano Park that night on Wednesday, February 21st, with JD Yoder and his fiancée, Cheyenne. Marianne drove north and picked up the puppy to give to JD for the trip south. The puppy made its way to South Florida comfortably riding on the lap of Cheyenne on the trip down and arrived safely to the racetrack. It was then driven to its new and forever home, with the Schaefer family.
The puppy would now become Gracie J. The name – Gracie – came from Kayla’s great-grandmother, Grace. The J in Gracie J is the initial of Jamie Marra, a key player in the entire plan to finding the puppy and getting the puppy from point A to point B.
Dr. Stacy Furgang is a veterinarian with BocaMobileVet in Boca Raton, FL. Monday through Wednesday, including Saturday and Sunday, are race nights at Pompano Park Racetrack. Dr. Furgang spends these nights on the side of the racetrack, monitoring the horses that enter the track at every race and every warmup. She ensures the safety of the horses and is available in case of emergency. Stacy was among the horsemen that Saturday night where this plan was constructed. This upcoming Friday, she will be meeting with Kayla Schaefer and Gracie J for the first round of vaccinations as well as a health certificate.
"The reason I got involved and offered my veterinary services for Kayla’s new puppy was that I, myself, am a Parkland resident and I was heartbroken by this tragedy," Dr. Stacy Furgang explains, "While a puppy cannot change what these students have gone through or take away what they have seen, focusing their energy on something positive will help with the healing process.
Animals are an incredible source of comfort during times of distress. They provide unconditional love and a safe friend in which to confide."
"We welcomed Gracie J on February 21st, escorted to our house by special agent Jamie Marra and his partner, special agent Tony Martindale of the FDLE. A deep, heartfelt thank you to all who helped Gracie put a smile on Kayla and Eliott’s faces and into their hearts."--By Jessica Hallet (Jessica is currently a freshman at Nova Southeastern University. She is the daughter of two harness horsemen, John and Michelle Hallet)
In memory of the 17 lives that were lost on February 14th, 2018. #ParklandStrong #MSDStrong