TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It was only one week ago that the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. were fleeing for their lives as a 19-year-old gunman attacked the school, killing 17 people.
With those traumatic memories still fresh in their minds, those students took to the state capital to tell their stories, to honor those they lost, and to demand consequential legislative action to curb gun violence.
Lorenzo Prado, a junior, said he does not support any political party, but spoke out against the nation’s current gun laws.
“Many would like to blame this event on the FBI’s lack of action, or the Trump administration, but the simple fact is that the laws of our beloved country allowed for the deranged gunman to purchase a gun legally. The law has failed us, and has let the events that happened in Parkland to occur,” Prado said. “What me must do now is enact change, because that is what we do to things that fail: we change them.”
Prado went on to recall his horrific experience in which he not only feared for his life from the shooter, but from SWAT team members as well after he was seen to be matching the shooter’s description.
“I was scared like everyone else, but my case was different than all the others because on that day, I was a suspected school shooter. On that day, I was in the sound booth inside the auditorium,” Prada recalled. He said he let many people into the auditorium after hearing banging on the door, then returned to the booth for safety. “The people in the audience saw me. They saw me and they panicked because I was matching the same description as Nikolas Cruz. I had the same clothes, same color. Same facial structure somewhat, I don’t know. And they reported me.
He said when the SWAT team came in, he thought he would be rescued, but was terrified when the armed officers pointed their weapons at him.
“I had six SWAT members pointing their guns at me,” Prada said. “I felt guilty for startling the audience. I felt guilty for the SWAT who had to pursue me instead of pursuing the murderer. I felt guilty for not contacting my mother.”
Ryan Deitsch, a senior, then took the podium. He did not have a prepared written statement, but said he hoped that his experience as president of the school improv club would see him through.
“This is the future I’ve seen before me – my friends, people that I’ve known since even 3rd grade have been standing next to me and have been speaking out against what is wrong, and what is wrong is the life of innocence is being taken day after day after day and it does not matter what we say. It does not matter how many people die,” Deitsch said. “Those in power have not taken action. They’ve been using their words, using political doubletalk as much as they can.”
Deitsch issued a warning to lawmakers who don’t take any action to change gun laws.
“The more they don’t act, the more they don’t deserve to be in office. The more that I know me and my friends – we are turning 18; I am a senior. I am 18 myself now. I can vote and I know who I am not voting for.”
Alfonso Calderon, a junior, took the podium to dismiss political differences and conspiracy theories.
“This is more than just political gain. This is more than just conspiracy theories and people trying to disqualify us from even having an opinion. This matters to me more than anything else in my entire life,” Calderon said. “Change might not come today. It might not come tomorrow. … but it’s going to happen before my lifetime because I will fight every single day and I know everyone else here will fight for their rest of their lives to see sensible gun laws in this country so that kids don’t have to fear going back to school.”
Sarah Chadwick, a junior, said she and her fellow students aren’t just fighting for the sake of their own lives, but also for the all the other children out there, and for each of the 17 victims at her school.
“Never again should a child be afraid to go to school. Never again should students have to protest for their lives. Never again should an innocent life be taken while trying to gain an education and never again should I feel guilty to be alive because Peter, Carmen, Scott, Feis, Hixon, Meadow, Jaime, Alyssa, Joaquin, Helena, Nick, Alaina, Cara, Martin, Luke, Gina, and Alex are not. That is why we’ve organized this revolution. For them.”
Sophie Whitney, a senior, said she is fighting so that history won’t remember Stoneman Douglas as just the site of a mass shooting, but as the school whose students fought for change.
“The place where over a week ago the biggest thing that ever happened was probably just a good season of baseball, but for the rest of history we will now be known as that high school. … My classmates and I are probably the most determined group of people you will ever meet. People are talking about how we aren’t serious because we are children, but have you heard my friends talk? We’re serious. We are here to discuss with our state legislators how we can prevent what happened to us. … I don’t want this to happen again. I wouldn’t wish what happened to us on my worst enemy because nobody should have to go through what we went through. Seventeen of our classmates and teachers were murdered at the hands of a mentally unstable monster, something that easily could have been prevented by a proper background check and a mental health exam. An evil boy with a weapon of war took 17 people from their families. How many more people have to die before something changes?”
Delaney Tarr, a senior, took her place at the podium to directly quash the conspiracy theories and misinformation campaigns that have sprung up as students have begun speaking out.
“I am not a crisis actor. I am not going off these pre-written speeches given to me by another person. Because speaking from the heart is what we do best. This movement, created by students led by students is based in emotion. It is based in passion and it is based in pain. Our biggest flaws, our tendency to be a bit too aggressive, our tendency to lash out, things that you would expect from a normal teenager, these are our strengths,” she said. “We’re not afraid of losing money. We’re not afraid of getting elected or re-elected. We have nothing to lose. The only thing we have to gain at this point is our safety.”
Tarr said the survivors’ attempts to communicate with their elected officials have been fraught with meaningless platitudes and bureaucratic roadblocks.
“The most we’ve gotten out of them is, ‘We’ll keep you in our thoughts. You’re strong. You are so powerful.’ We have heard enough of that. … We are not here to be patted on the back. … We’re not here to be told that we’re great, that we’re doing so much because we know what we’re doing and we’re doing it for a reason,” Tarr said. “We’re doing it so that our legislators, so that our lawmakers will make a change, so they will take us seriously, so that they will not dismiss us any longer, so that they won’t reschedule, so they won’t push us into another room as they dance around our questions. … We know what we want. We want gun reform. We want common sense gun laws. We want stronger mental health checks and background checks working in conjunction. We want a better age limit. We want privatized selling to be completely reformed so you can’t just walk into a building with $130 and walk out with an AR-15.”
Watch their entire speeches below: