Feb. 14, a 19-year-old man opened fire with an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring over 15.
The University of Florida community is home to nearly hundreds of alumni from MSD, many with siblings still in attendance. Here are their stories.
It is okay to be angry. It is okay to be sad. And it is okay to feel shocked. I have experienced an overwhelming range of emotion in the last six days, from hysteria to blind rage to complete numbness. And I am positive that I am not alone in this. But above all else, we must inspire change. We must move past our anger and celebrate the lives of those seventeen souls that were so violently taken from this world, and we must show the world the power that our words have.
Traveling home this past weekend was a surreal experience. I kept hearing people say, it could have been us. It could have been anyone, anywhere. It could have been my brother. My innocent fifteen-year-old brother, who is now forever changed by what happened at his high school, the place where he goes to learn and be inspired. He told me that he will never forget the sound of gunshots, he hears their echo. He told me he was in the 1200 building during the class period before shots were fired. He told me he saw Coach Feis speeding on his golf cart directly into gunfire.
He told me about his team captain, Nick Dworet. Both my brother and I had the pleasure of being Nicks teammate and swam alongside him every day at practice. He told me about how he hid in a locked closet, not 300 yards from where children were dying. He told me about how teams of law enforcement told his class to put their hands up and escorted them off school grounds.
No one should ever experience horror such as this. He is a child, one that is blessed to say he survived and is safe and alive, but one that will live with knowing that he saw Coach Feis in his final moments and that seventeen people were murdered a stones throw away from the locked door that he and his classmates hid behind.
To all the Douglas alumni, and to the Gator nation, we must stand together. We must hurt and heal together.
We will not let that monster win. I attended Joaquin Olivers funeral on Saturday, and I will never forget the kindness his family showed us. Instead of being angry or having hate in their hearts for the sick individual that took their son from them, all they had was love. His parents stood by their sons open casket and embraced and comforted every single crying person that came to pay their respects to their son. You could feel the serenity in the room amid the sorrow. Looking over at Joaquin, all I could think of was how peaceful he looked, almost as if he was just sleeping. I just wanted him to wake up.
Our community will stay strong and come back from this. Do not let minute details cloud what the real goal is. We will win. The bottom line is that we must never allow a mass shooting to happen in the United States ever again. Whether you believe it to be an issue of mental health, gun reform, security, or neglect by the agencies put in place to protect us, do not forget that seventeen people are dead. Do not forget that sides on these matters are not important right now. Do not forget that seventeen families have been burying their loved ones for the past week. Do not make this about you.
These are not just names. These are people. People with futures, plans, and dreams.
For Coach Feis, Jaime, Nick, Mr. Beigel, Alyssa, Gina, Luke, Coach Hixon, Alaina, Meadow, Joaquin, Peter, Helena, Carmen, Alex, Cara, and Martin, this is all for you.
My little sister is suffering from PTSD. She is 17 years old.
Shes still a kid, but has been to more funerals, and has seen more dead bodies than most adults I know. My little sister has been stripped of her innocence and was forced to grow up too quickly all because of something that should have never happened in the first place.
We all thought our school was safe and could not imagine anything like this happening there.
My three sisters, my mother, and I have a group chat we talk in regularly. It wasnt until we received the worst possible text one can imagine from my mother, at 2:32 p.m., when we realized our lives were forever changed.
Mom: Guys please, please help call rich. Shooter at Douglas. Please call him.
Liz: Please try calling
Mom: Where are you
Liz: Under a desk
Mom: Wheres the shooter
Liz: We dont know. He shot the hallway into my classroom. 2 kids are bleeding but I cant see them
My mother got into her car and drove to the scene as fast as she could. My father, an FBI agent, sped down the road from work as one of the first responders at his own daughters high school. The Kevlar vest he put on wouldnt have been enough to stop the bullet of an AR-15. And at that time, we didnt know where the shooter was, so we didnt know if we were going to lose our dad too.
My sister survived a mass shooting that day. My little sister. She cannot close her eyes at night without seeing her dead classmates. She is now afraid of loud noises because she had to listen to over 100 gunshots go off that day gunshots that were killing people. She now needs to seek professional help that she wouldnt have had to receive in the first place. My little sister, who when heard the gunshots, thought she was going to die and said to herself, I just got into UF, her dream school. My sister, who feels guilty, because she had to leave her classmate, Carmen, behind. My little sister, who I repeat, is just 17 years old. She had to endure all of this because a very troubled 19-year-old had the right to a semi-automatic rifle.
My sister was sitting at the desk next to the door he shot through, and I am so grateful she was quick on her feet at that moment. I dont know what I would have done, but I dont think I would have given up the safest spot under the teachers desk because I thought another person needed it. I dont think I would have been able to help take over the 911 call and give the dispatchers their location or even stay on the line with them. Nor do I think I would have been able to comfort my friends during such a frightening time. I dont know what I would have done, but Liz was able to do all those things that day. To me, she is a hero.
It is important that we never forget the 17 people we lost. What happened to them, and to their families, was not fair. And we also can never forget about the people, like Liz, the survivors, who experienced this first hand. My heart aches for my baby sister and all those around her who made it out of that building alive. They had to text their families and friends they loved them if anything happens to them. They had to see their classmates get shot. They had to listen to the ear-piercing screams of scared, innocent children afraid for their lives. And they had to see dead bodies lying in the hallways they used to walk every day.
That isnt fair.
I dont know what to say to my sister to make her feel better because she will never be able to unsee this. She tells me she cant close her eyes at night without seeing the face of Carmen, the girl in her class whose funeral she attended [Tuesday.]
A National Merit Scholar who never actually found out she was a semifinalist because she died the day before she would have received the letter. I dont know what to say about Coach Hixon and Coach Feis, who died trying to stop and disarm the shooter to save their students. Teacher and Coach Scott Beigel, who died taking students out of the hallway and putting them into his classroom. Joaquin, Helena, and Meadow, some of the other older students who were never able to finish high school. Nicholas, who had just previously committed to the University of Indianapolis for swimming.
Peter Wang, the 15-year-old boy, who bravely died funneling his friends and classmates out the door, before himself, to escape the shooter. And the youngest victims Luke, Alex, Alaina, Cara, Jaime, Martin, Alyssa, and Gina, who were all just 14 or 15 years old. Gina was a fellow member of the color guard. I never met her, but the color guard family will forever be important to me.
Our community did not deserve this. These families did not deserve this. Those 17 people who were killed did not deserve this.
We used to joke about how nobody knew where Parkland was. If you were from Parkland, you know we all had different euphemisms for describing where we lived. Forty-five minutes north of Ft. Lauderdale. Southwest of Boca Raton. An hour away from Miami. Never again will I have to explain to somebody where Parkland is. And I would give anything to have that anonymity back.
On Wednesday, February 14th, 2018, at 3:18 PM, I texted my 15-year-old brother. He is a freshman at Douglas, meaning that most of his classes are taught in the building in which the shooting occurred. I texted him, message after message, desperately hoping, praying to see the typing icon appear on my phone. I was terrified to call him, for fear that his ringer was turned on, and that his phone would put him face to face with a killer.
Three minutes went by. These were the longest three minutes of my life. My brother began to type. I cannot describe to you the relief, and also the anguish, I felt in that moment. He was safe. His class had heard the fire alarm and had been evacuated. He was, thank god, alive. There are seventeen other families that do not have a story nearly as lucky as mine.
This isnt it happened so close to home. This IS home. Douglas is home. Douglas is my ninth-grade brothers home. Douglas is thousands of students homes. But because of the sickening acts of one individual, Douglas is now home to seventeen less. None of those children woke up last Wednesday thinking they were going to die that day. To the families who lost a loved one on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018, I am sorry. To the children who must carry the weight of this tragedy, I am sorry. I never thought my school would be a statistic. But I will fight for the rest of my life to make sure that it is the last one. I will fight to make sure this does not happen again.
Strength was something I didn't have when my sister called me, telling me there was a shooter, that she loved me, and that she was going to run for her life. I was completely hopeless, not knowing if I would see my sister again, not knowing if I would see my teachers again, my friends again. Being class president, Douglas wasn't just my school, it was my home, it was my responsibility for it's well being.
Being 400 miles away, I was completely powerless, I was weak, I again had no strength.
After hearing that while my sister survived, and so many of her friends did not, I rushed down to Parkland to weep. But when I got there, to my surprise, the sadness has turned to rage, and the rage turned to strength. The community came together and decided we are not going to be another statistic, that we are not going to let it be pushed under the rug.
Nikolas Cruz is a coward, he is weak, and committed this horrible tragedy. It's hard to make sense of why anyone would do such a thing. Sometimes people do horrible things to make themselves feel important, to feel powerful, to get a fake sense of strength. And at first I agreed, he won, he is more powerful than us and took advantage of our vulnerability to fulfill an unthinkable act.
I now realize WE ARE STRONGER THAN THIS COWARD, we are not going to let him win. The stronger we come back, the more we show this monster that he can't win! He messed with the wrong community. We aren't sitting on the sidelines anymore, we are making a change on our campus, in Tallahassee, in DC, and across the world.
While no matter what we do, we can't bring back the ones we lost, but we can turn this horrible event into a turning point, so they will never be forgotten.
I'm so proud of everyone for standing up against the wrongs in our country and making a difference.
That's what Marjory Stoneman Douglas stands for, that's what The University of Florida stands for.
As our motto says, BE POSITIVE, BE PASSIONATE, AND BE PROUD TO BE AN EAGLE.
Parkland is a town where everyone knows everyone. Its first in schools, its first in band and sports, its first in safety. Parkland is that community that you see on TV where it seems to be perfect. A place where the worst thing to happen in my 17 years there was a drunk driver driving the wrong way on the highway and ending two childrens lives. But that was devastating.
At the time, that was the unthinkable. Every parent held their child a little closer that night. But this. What happened wasnt just devastating. What happened on February 14th, 2018 was annihilating. It destroyed what Parkland was.
I never thought Id have to go to the wake of a 15-year-old boy. I never thought Id be standing next to a 15-year-old boy, laying in a casket while his mother stands 5 feet away from us. While his brother, who I grew up as a child with, was 10 feet away. While I hugged his mother, Ive never felt this feeling that she had, which screamed that she needed me more than anyone else. And this feeling was passed on to the hundreds of our community that were at the wake.
But in this darkness that we see shines a light that weve never seen so bright. I see the families who lost a son, a daughter, a grandson, a granddaughter, a nephew, a niece, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a friend. And these families, theyre completely shattered. But this community of Parkland has stood up strong for them. Theyre going to funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral after funeral.
And all this sadness is being processed into love. Ive seen parents sob while holding each other. Ive seen high schoolers hug each other so tight that all you see are the breaths being squeezed out of each other. Ive seen the boys and girls who have sat at the crosses of their friends and had a picnic to include them in to the conversation. Our town is grieving. But our town is also learning from this. Were becoming closer than ever before. Its become something that others think as a cloud but I think of it as a calling. Its a place where instead of letting this shooter ruin us, were going to rise. Were going to make sure this never happens again.
Never again. Let those words echo in your head.
Never again will we let families feel this pain. Never again will we let high schools, middle schools, elementary schools be the targets of a mass shooting. Never again will other towns fear that their child may not return from school. Never again.