When the Patriots fly on the team’s custom Boeing 767, some of the longest-tenured players like to take up a whole row to themselves so they can lie down comfortably. Tom Brady usually stretches out over three seats in the middle section.
Last Thursday, Kyle Laman was sprawled out, Brady-style, across three seats on the Patriots’ plane. But he had his own row out of necessity, not comfort. A 15-year-old freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Laman was shot in his right foot and ankle in the Feb. 14 attack at the school that killed 14 students and three adult staff members. He has had three complicated surgeries to save and reconstruct his foot and has to keep it elevated constantly, so he sat with his back against the armrest and his leg stretched out over the seats next to him. His mother, Marie Laman, describes his gruesome injury as “Walking Dead-like,” and jokingly calls her son “Frankenfoot.” Laman’s two surgeons cleared their weekend schedules to travel with the group to D.C. They worked on many of the MSD students that day and feel a strong tie to the group.
Laman hasn’t been able to go anywhere except back and forth from the hospital and his house since the day he was shot. He hasn’t returned to school, or attended any funerals or memorials for the students who died. His mom says he saw three of his classmates die that day, and what bothers him the most is that he tried to save one of them, but didn’t succeed. “He knows this all happened, but it hasn’t really sunk in,” Marie says. “He knows his friends are dead but he hasn’t gone to class yet where his friend isn’t sitting there.”
A little more than a week ago, Gabrielle Giffords, the former U.S. congresswoman from Arizona, and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, reached out to Patriots owner Robert Kraft to ask him for a favor: Would he loan one of his planes to fly some of the MSD high school community, including families of the victims, to the March for Our Lives protest in D.C.?
Giffords was connected to the cause as a survivor gun violence—in 2011 she was shot in the head during a public event in Arizona. In 2012, she and Kelly formed an organization, Giffords, to fight against gun violence.
So Kraft loaned one of the team’s two official planes to fly about half of the families of the 17 victims, a handful of the students who were injured, and a group of students who would be performing their original song, “Shine,” at the march.
Kraft, who through a Patriots spokesman declined comment for this story, did not travel on the plane to D.C., but he penned a letter that was left on each seat, along with a Patriots baseball hat. “In the wake of incredible tragedy, we have hurt for you, mourned with you, and been inspired by you,” Kraft’s letter read. “It is an honor for us to now partner with you as you push for progress. Your community is stirring our country towards a better future. That is the mark of a patriot.”
The families of the victims and of the injured students were seated first, followed by the seven members of Shine MSD—a group created by MSD drama students to help their community heal—and their families and teachers. Bronson Green, a site operations manager for the Patriots, introduced himself to every passenger on the plane and passed around a Super Bowl LI ring, letting passengers try it on and take pictures.
Alex Moscou, a 16-year-old sophomore member of Shine MSD, had a request. He is an MSD lacrosse player originally from New Jersey, the same area where Chris Hogan, the college lacrosse player-turned-Patriots wide receiver, is from. Mouscas wanted to sit in Hogan’s usual seat.
On the day of the shooting, Moscou and dozens of other drama class students hid in the back closet of their classroom for almost two hours without air conditioning. For Moscou, the hardest part of the last month-and-a-half was trying to find a sense of normalcy. When he went back to his math class, the desk next to him was empty. Luke Hoyer, one of the 14 students who were killed, used to sit there. His English teacher was grazed in the arm with a bullet, and seeing her for the first time brought back the fear. “We have A and B days, and if it were a B day, I would have been in her class in that building, and things could have turned out very differently,” he says.
Moscou spent much of the flight from Florida to D.C. in semi-meditation, staring out the window into the blue sky and white clouds below. “I found it very soothing,” he says. “Whenever I look out the window of a plane it calms me down. In the town where it all happened, you can’t really get away from it, but on the plane with great service and great people, for me, it definitely calmed me down.” A Giants fan, he was so impressed by the hospitality that he whispered to his mom, “You know what, I think we can cut the Patriots a little bit of slack for today.”
The flight was particularly exciting for Kali Clougherty; while most of her classmates are Dolphins fans she was born in Massachusetts, to a family of Pats fans. She leaned back in the spacious leather seat, nibbled on lasagna and cheesecake and felt at ease for the first time in more than a month. Clougherty, 18, had never been on a plane this nice before, and she couldn’t wait to watch a movie on the personal TV screen in front of her seat. She picked out Deadpool, the action movie comic book adaptation, and pressed play. The opening scenes featured fiery car crashes, fistfights and bad guys wildly firing large assault rifles. The violence was jarring. She turned off the movie just 20 minutes in. “Ever since the shooting it has been really hard for me to watch gory, graphic things,” Clougherty says. “I was like, Oh boy, I have to shut this off.”
Clougherty and her drama classmates competed last week in the Florida State Thespian Competition. They hoped to blend in like kids from any other school, but MSD isn’t just any other school anymore. Everyone knows their story, and they received a lot of attention from fellow competitors and spectators. Throughout the competition, members of the group struggled with symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, triggered by certain noises. “Gunshots, sirens, helicopters, alarms,” Clougherty says. “At the competition there happened to be a lot of those noises there for some reason, and it was really triggering. It’s just moments, we take it moment by moment, every day.”
Some moments are harder than others, like when she walks into school and Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach, isn’t there greeting students at the door. Feis was one of three MSD staff members who died in the shooting. “He was the start of my day every morning,” she says. “He would always wave at me and say hello. Even if you didn’t know the people super well, it still affects you. That’s what people don’t understand.”
When friends told Marie Laman how important it would be for Kyle to be there for the March for Our Lives, Marie couldn’t see how he’d be able to travel that far when she struggled just to get her son into a car. “I can’t even imagine going through the airport, going through TSA, security,” she says. “There was no way he could have ever, ever gone to Washington if it wasn’t for this plane.”
The Patriots plane was equipped with a special wheelchair lift to get Laman on board, and when he arrived on the tarmac on Thursday afternoon and first saw the plane, decorated with New England’s colors and five Lombardi trophies on the tail, he thought, Oh my god, I feel rich now. The food service on chartered flights is essentially nonstop, and Kyle’s appetite rivaled that of a professional football player. First the entree, a salad and a dessert. Later a fruit basket, then the chips, and then a selection of candy bars.
“To be honest, it really was [the first time I’ve done anything fun since the shooting],” Kyle says. “I don’t really move a lot now since the incident, and going on the Patriots plane was really cool to me because I actually got out and did something.”
For Marie, the two hours in the air was the first real downtime she’d had since the shooting. “The whole thing was like a VIP treatment,” she says. “I didn’t have to worry about like, how much does my luggage weigh? Kyle sat back, he got to choose a movie and he got to relax. And I can’t even tell you the last time I relaxed.”
Though there were around 100 people on board, the plane was large enough to make it feel empty, which was comforting for Laman. “I thought the plane was going to be packed, but it was empty, which I liked,” he says. “I like the silence and I like the emptiness.”
By the end of the return flight, the passengers had felt so much support from the flight crew that they felt like family. Flight attendants posed for pictures with families and students, and everyone hugged the crew members as they deplaned. “The staff was hugging all of us,” Marie says. “Everybody on the plane was either a victim or a family member was a victim … Everybody is family on the plane.”
When the plane landed in D.C on Thursday night., Marie looked over at Kyle, who was now wearing his new Patriots ball cap and immersed in a movie. When he realized they’d landed, he took off his headphones off and said, ‘Man, I don’t even want to get off the plane.’”
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