SEBRING — While an entire county grieves publicly for the loss of five people to gun violence, the families of those five have chosen, at least for now, to remain silent in their grief.
Some have spoken out, such as the Williams family, who held a press conference of their own shortly after the events that changed so many of their lives and the lives of others.
Ana Piñon-Williams, 38, was one of four employees in the bank at noon on Jan. 23, 2019, working alongside 54-year-old Debra Cook, 55-year-old Marisol Lopez, and 31-year-old Jessica Montague.
Their one customer at that time was 65-year-old Cynthia Lee Watson, until the shooter walked in.
He called 911 at 12:36 p.m. to report what he had done, prompting law enforcement and emergency personnel to converge on the bank, and prompting victims’ advocates from several local and state agencies to gather the families at a nearby hotel for the inevitable bad news.
With the first anniversary of the SunTrust shooting, as the community comes together to dedicate the former bank site, which has been redeveloped as a memorial, families of those women have made few public statements or appearances.
They also have not said much, at least to date, about their grief and coping over the last year.
A representative of the Williams family has made some public statements regarding learning to accept the change throughout this past year.
It’s been a year of missed gatherings, holidays and birthdays, including Montague’s husband’s birthday. It is the same as the shooting.
In the case of the Montague and Watson homes, wedding anniversaries occurred shortly before this remembrance.
In addition to husbands without wives, children have been without their mothers.
Cook, with two sons and grandchildren, would have celebrated 35 years with her husband, Michael Cook, in February 2019.
Lopez, and her husband Victor, married since 1992, lived in Lake Placid with their two children, Kiara and Victor Lopez.
Jessica Montague, married to Jermaine Montague, had one of her three children with him. Through him, she was step-mom to seven more.
Piñon-Williams, married for six years to Chad Williams, was mother to three children and step-mom to four children.
She had just begun working at SunTrust on Jan. 4, 2019, an answer to a prayer for a new job.
Watson and her husband, Tony Watson, had recently married in January 2019. They lived in Venus with their two Shih Tzu dogs and some chickens and goats.
In the month immediately after the shooting, schools offered support to the many children returning to daily routine, but not to a “normal life.”
As with the victim’s advocates from various agencies, school counselors stood ready to help when children did return, especially if they didn’t return immediately.
Woodlawn Elementary School had one child affected by the shooting. Memorial Elementary School had four.
GoFundMe.com accounts started up to raise funds for the families, as needed, as well as a scholarship fund for the children.
Throughout the community, the rallying statement “Sebring Strong,” adapted the “Boston Strong” rallying cry that arose after the Boston Marathon Bombing on April 15, 2013.
One of the GoFundMe accounts is the “Sebring Strong Survivors Fund,” formed by the SunTrust Foundation and the National Compassion Fund at www.gofundme.com/f/sebring-strong-survivors-fund. To date, it has raised $632,261 specifically to help the families of Cook, Lopez, Montague, Piñon-Williams and Watson.
Today’s memorial dedication begins at 10:30 a.m. at 1901 U.S. 27 South, across Tubbs Road from the Residence Inn by Marriott in Sebring.
Parking is available on site and at the Marriott and the adjacent Tru by Hilton, but those lots are private parking and limited.
Attendees would be wise to carpool as much as possible or park further away and walk.