Peter Wang

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He was selfless, curious, loving and brave. He was an active member of the JROTC program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He loved to play basketball just as much as he loved to watch the Houston Rockets. He enjoyed jamming to hip-hop and had hopes of attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Most importantly, Peter Wang was adored by many and cared for by all. “He was rather quiet, but he was always happy and always smiled. Pete was well-liked and an entertaining joy to have in my room,” JROTC Sergeant John V. Navarra said. Peter was born on Nov. 9, 2002 in Brooklyn, New York to his father, Kong Wang, and mother, Hui Wang. He was the oldest of his two brothers, Jason and Alex Wang. Though he was born in the United States, he lived in his parents’ native country, China, for two years as a baby. Back in Florida, Peter attended Westchester Elementary in Coral Springs where he met his eventual best friend, freshman Gabriel Ammirata. Together, they grew closer as they journeyed through Sawgrass Springs Middle School and watched their favorite anime shows, “Naruto” and “Dragon Ball Z.” They both went on to continue their academic careers at MSD, but while Ammirata became involved in band, Peter joined JROTC. “We’ve known each other for such a long time, and it’s pretty cool how we ended up at the same high school. It was fun growing alongside him and his cousins,” Ammirata said. “We’d eat at his parent’s restaurant and have hot pot all the time. I loved anything Asian he fed me. Thinking about it all is like pure nostalgia.” Aside from indulging in Asian cuisine together, they often spent late nights gaming and talking to each other over Skype. Their favorite games included NBA 2K, Naruto Shippuden and League of Legends. Though he never fully got into the craze, Ammirata says that if Peter was here right now, he’d probably be playing Fortnite. “He was open to any kind of conversation. When we play, I can talk about whatever with him, from the latest ‘Flash’ episode to the type of shoes I should get. He was really kind-hearted. If you’re feeling down, he was the type of guy that would cheer you up,” Ammirata said. Every year, Ammirata celebrated the Lunar New Year with Peter and his family. They would go to the Wang’s restaurant and engage in light-hearted banter, while stuffing their faces with sushi and dumplings. Peter would invite Ammirata to his Fujianese Association events for other new year festivities. They both especially enjoyed receiving lai see, red envelopes containing “lucky money.” “Feb. 16 was Chinese New Year. If he would’ve been able to make it one more day, it would’ve been the third year in a row celebrating it together. If he would’ve been able to make it one more day, we would’ve seen the new ‘Dragon Ball Super’ film and watch the heck out of it together,” Ammirata said. Apart from his embracement of his Chinese heritage, Peter grew up with an enduring affinity toward sports. In fourth grade, he picked up basketball and later became involved in taekwondo and swimming at the Coral Springs Aquatic Center. Peter advanced all the way to red belt, but upon entering high school, he was met with an all-too-familiar dilemma: the decision between academics and athletics. Although Peter enjoyed delivering powerful roundhouse kicks and jabs, he valued his school work over participating in sports. Though his taekwondo career ended in his final year of middle school, his involvement in JROTC was just getting started. In JROTC, Peter’s talent and intellect carried him quickly up the ranks. Senior Angelyse Perez, Peter’s Bravo unit commander, reported that he was an excellent marksman and was about to be promoted to the “A” team. “Peter was definitely passionate about being a part of the marksman team. I was surprised to hear how good he was,” Peter’s cousin Aaron Chen said. “I suppose it was all the video games he played.” Though they were cousins, Chen said that he and Peter grew up together like brothers; they saw each other and spent time together everyday. As children, they fought furious Pokémon card battles and lashed in intense PC gaming sessions. “He was the only person on my level when it came to games. He wasn’t a professional, but it wasn’t like he didn’t know what he was doing. I stopped collecting cards or playing those games because Peter played with me and there’s not really a point to it now,” Chen said. Chen spoke lovingly of Peter, reflecting on some of their perhaps not so school-appropriate memories. They grew up causing playful mischief and cracking inside jokes. “Peter was never sad, and he always made jokes. That was the essence of Peter,” Chen said. “He never got down about anything. He just wanted to make others laugh.” When Peter was not at school, he enjoyed hanging out with friends, playing basketball and watching anime. “He would watch so many animes. At one point, I remember he said ‘there are no animes for me to watch anymore,’” Peter’s little brother, Jason Wang, 11, said. He also spent much of his time with family, frequently taking care of his younger brothers. The boys grew close both as family and as best friends. They would play video games late into the evening and watch films together in the home theater. They often bonded over campaign mode on Halo or iPad games. When Jason and Alex were bored, Peter was there to keep them company. In addition to being their brother and best friend, Peter served as their mentor and role model. “He was kind, he was generous, he was smart. Whenever I don’t get something [in school], I can ask him. Then he says ‘okay let me help you.’ He teaches me and if I don’t get it, he teaches me again until I do. I believed in him. I trusted him. I [could] depend on him,” Jason Wang said. Peter’s mom remembers how Peter always listened to her. Whenever his parents asked anything of him, he followed. Also, whenever Peter asked anything of his parents, they did it for him. “We work hard for the kids. Everything we do is for them. We want them to grow up happy, so we try to provide the best for them,” Hui Wang said. As a child, Peter strived to become a pilot and attend West Point. The longstanding values of courage and bravery that characterized his personality are said to parallel those taught at the university. Peter stood by these values up until his last moments when he held the door open to help his classmates escape to safety. “We teach in JROTC the values of honor, duty, respect, loyalty, selfless service and courage, but I haven’t gotten to those lessons yet. So he learned those things from home. He was a good person and a good cadet. We never know what we are going to do in a situation like that, but Peter made us all proud,” Sergeant Navarra said. His dreams and story of heroism inspired veterans and West Point graduates across the nation. As a result, Peter was posthumously admitted to the West Point class of 2025. It was a rare honor from the university, which brought both comfort and tears to his friends and family. West Point also granted him a Medal of Heroism, the highest honor for a JROTC member. “It was clear from his classmates and the other members in JROTC with him that this was the type of person he was. They weren’t surprised he would take this kind of action to save people,” West Point alumnus Chad Maxey said. In a time of apparent hopelessness, Peter’s heroism has touched and moved the lives of many. While the community suffered from the darkest of humanity, his bravery kindled the hearts of the nation to action. “Let this selfless young man be held up as a shining symbol of the best of humanity and a beacon of hope for a future that will soon reside in the hands of his generation,” writer Patrice Apodaca said in a LA Times article. Peter will forever be remembered for his humor, heart, courage and valor. To the witty friend who was always quick to crack jokes and make everyone laugh, to the loving brother who was always there to look out for his family, to the obedient son who revealed to his parents the feeling of true love, to the noble hero who put others before himself, to Peter: MSD misses you, loves you and will always stand beside you. Story by Richard Doan; photos courtesy of Hui Wang, Aaron Chen, Gabriel Ammirata and Peter Mahmood