On the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2018, I was a junior at a Florida high school close to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, Florida. Just in from school, my father called from work to tell my mother to turn on the news.
There had been a shooting. I remember immediately telling my close friends in a group chat about what was happening and to turn on the news.
To this day I remember my friend’s response, “Damn, that is way too close.”
The next few hours trailed by very slowly because next to no new information was coming out either from the local or national news. My mom and I were glued to the scene unfolding on the TV, which was occurring in our own backyard. We did not think the shooting was that bad because, at this point, they were saying that only one teacher had been shot.
Later in the day seemingly out of nowhere, they announced on the news that 17 people had been killed, mostly students.
My mom let out a loud gasp, held her hand over her mouth, and began to cry. The local newswoman announcing the death toll could barely get her words out and began to choke up. To this day, I have never seen a news reporter break down quite like this. I remember just feeling numb at the time. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that one of the worst school shootings in American history had just happened so close to my house.
When my dad got home from work that day, he hugged me and started crying. This scared the shit out of me because I had rarely seen my dad cry. This, in a way, snapped me into reality and helped show me the gravity of the situation.
The next day we still had class, which looking back now, seems crazy. That day was one of the weirdest and heaviest days of school I’ve ever experienced. There were police armed with AR-15s at the entrance, the same type of guns used to cause such carnage nearby less than 24 hours before.
As I entered my school, which now felt like occupied territory, the feeling of shock and fear could be felt in the air. We did nothing that day; the teachers were as dumbfounded about what happened the day before as the students were.
Some teachers did things to help us get our minds off the horrible event. My chemistry teacher bought a class pet that day, a rabbit she kept in the class the rest of the year. My English teacher bought pizza for the class, which felt odd because something like that would usually be reserved for a class party. The mood in the class was more like a funeral.
The following week as protests began to pick up among students at Stoneman Douglas and around the area, our school staged a walkout. I had never been in any type of protest before this, and it was a breathtaking experience. My high school was massive, with 4,500 plus students, so the walkout felt like a substantial protest.
Multiple news helicopters hovered above as we walked down the middle of a street to a nearby park with the shared goal of protesting the lack of gun control that has resulted in so many dead children in schools across America.
Once the crowd had gathered, multiple students from Stoneman Douglas, spoke about their experiences, which were all horrific and disturbing; causing many people to break down and cry in the crowd, including the speakers.
My high school never felt the same after what happened. The next year, a big gate was constructed around the main entrance and another fence around the entire perimeter of the school. We had to have these special IDs to wear on lanyards all the time. Getting into the school in the morning felt like going through customs.
Different tributes and memorials were put up towards the main entrance area of the school. A big poster board was put out for students to write messages to the Stoneman Douglas school. Poster boards were put up throughout the school calling for gun control and the banning of assault rifles.
On the one month anniversary of the shooting, we all gathered in the school’s courtyard for a memorial and a call for action. Some students stood up and gave speeches. I vividly remember one where a student exclaimed that this wasn’t normal and that trying to act like everything was fine would further normalize school shootings. Red and White balloons were let up into the air, symbolizing the colors of the Parkland school.
On the anniversary of Columbine, our school put out 13 desks to honor the victims of that tragedy; I remember seeing on the news that at Columbine in Colorado, they were doing walkouts that day. It was amazing to see different schools across the country refusing to forget victims of the past while simultaneously standing in solidarity with the school in my county.
The following year, when I was a senior, many new school shooting drills were put into the school curriculum and would be done monthly. The principal explained these over the intercom with a piercing alarm that sounded like a mix of a police siren and nuclear bomb warning. This is what would go on in the event of an actual school shooting.
For drills, we would turn the lights off and all gather in a specific classroom spot. We would have to put our knees into our stomachs, and the entire class of usually 25 students all squeezed into the area and stayed behind a little blue line of tape. How this would save any of us if high powered bullets were flying through the air was never explained or even brought up.
I found it interesting how some students would joke around during these drills, usually the underclassman. This was the first year we had to do this. Some students were already becoming normalized to exercises designed to protect kids from violent shooters, a far cry from the fire drills and tornado drills I had grown up with through elementary and middle school.
In January of that year, during my 2nd period, the intercom sounded off, a code yellow which meant that the school was under lockdown. A threat had been called in by phone. SWAT team and a massive amount of police swarmed the school. We heard helicopters buzzing above and very little information was relayed to us.
Police and SWAT went room to room in the buildings with long guns and police dogs, I was out in a farther building, and they never went where I was. I saw videos from other students of police in their classrooms and them checking bookbags and closets. After nearly five hours, we were finally let out and allowed to go home. The line for the bathroom was around the hallway, as nobody was let out during the entire lockdown. I walked past concerned parents, all waiting outside the school. There was so much commotion, and this was only a false alarm.
The next day the principal thanked everyone for their cooperation and said he was not sure if it was “the real thing or not.” One of the only mementos I have of that strange time is a red ribbon that was given out the day after the shooting and my memories.
Since then, I have graduated and gone to the University of Colorado, where I have not done a school shooting drill since I left Florida. The scourge of mass shootings is something that I could not get away from even half a country away.
A little over a year after being in Boulder, the massacre at the King Soopers occurred, again devastating a community I called home. The threat of a mass shooting rips through the semblance of safety in even the most picturesque of towns.
The Table Mesa shopping center in South Boulder is a place I frequented often, and still do to this day. The randomness of this shooting was so striking and shocking at the time. Even after a mass killing had happened close to me before, I could not believe something like this would ever happen in Boulder, a place that felt world’s away from everything that happened in my county in Florida.
Being so close to these events makes one realize that an armed gunman can go into any peaceful area where people are just going about their lives and turn the area into a macabre display of death and brutality that changes everyone involved forever.
I wonder how different my life could have turned out if those gunmen targeted my school or the grocery stores I usually go to in Boulder instead of the King Soopers. The randomness of mass shootings in America leaves so many near the constant possibility of life changing violence. Others never make it out and leave behind families and friends broken by grief, just becuase they were out doing something as ordinary as buying groceries or seeing a movie.
The news of the horrific slaughter of innocent Children at an Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, has again forced the public to recognize and reckon with the epidemic of mass killings unique to our country. Whenever another shooting happens, all the memories of that tragic time in my community come flooding back as I reflect on how close but at the same time how far I was from such a heinous act of violence.
It is frustrating to see more and more young people’s lives lost and be met with such inaction time and time again. It will be up to my generation to push for change. Asking to be able to go to school or the grocery store without the chance of being maimed by gunfire or seeing your classmates brutally butchered is something that should be guaranteed.
American children are currently growing up in a country where these school shootings occur more than anywhere else and more frequently than ever before. My parents did not grow up with this, but I did, and I hope this country can come together and make it so my generation’s kids do not have to grow up in schools plagued by bloodshed and fear.