An interesting commission from The Atlantic’s CityLab: a new city in South West Florida that makes maximum use of the state’s greatest and most plentiful free natural asset, the sun
Six words changed Robert Schentrup’s life after 12 hours spent waiting for news of his teenage sister following the Parkland school massacre. “Bobby, your sister has been killed,” his father sobbed down the telephone.
Today, the Schentrups and other grieving parents who sent their children to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) on February 14 but got only bullet-riddled bodies back will be among half a million people expected to throng Washington DC for March for Our Lives, a youth-led rally calling time on gun violence in America.
“There are a lot of communities that gun violence has affected disproportionately for a long time and their voices haven’t been heard — kids in places like Chicago who’ve been crying out for years, but where getting shot is something that happens every day,” said Robert, 18.
“Parkland was declared the safest community in Florida the week of the shooting, it’s affluent, it was somewhere people thought it couldn’t happen. Now our voices can help to raise all those others that haven’t been listened to and send a message that we’re all here, collectively, to fight for the right to not get shot. This is a march for all our lives.”
More than 800 other marches will take place across the US, including Parkland, where 17 students and staff were killed and 17 more injured when a former student opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle last month. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Nikolas Cruz, 19, an expelled student.
Carmen Schentrup, 16, was shot four times. The horror of what occurred haunts her brother, who replays visceral images in his mind of a bullet speeding through her classroom door and through her skull. He has seen his parents, Philip and April, break down uncontrollably and notes that Carmen’s once vivacious presence in the family home “has now been replaced with pounds of ash in an urn”.
In Parkland and the neighbouring community of Coral Springs, from where the school’s 3,300 students are drawn, vigils, memorial events and therapy sessions have become part of the new way of life. Parents, teachers and students talk of being unable to settle at everyday tasks as they continue to grieve.
March for Our Lives, however, has provided a point of focus, after MSD students founded a powerful activist movement calling for gun reform including a ban on assault weapons. Today they will march down Pennsylvania Avenue alongside peers from urban communities where gun violence is commonplace, attempting to broaden the spotlight beyond just Parkland.
“Students from this school have been fighting for this kind of attention for months,” said Lauryn Renford, 16, a student at Thurgood Marshall Academy in DC, whose boyfriend Zaire Kelly, 16, was shot dead outside his house in September. In January, another student at the school, Paris Brown, 19, was also killed by a gunman.
During a visit from MSD students on Thursday, Zaire’s brother, Zion , 17, told an assembly at the school – whose population is predominantly African-American: “Raise your hand if you’ve been affected by gun violence.” Almost every child raised their hand.
“Living in this community forces us to face the impact of guns on a daily basis,” he said.
David Hogg, 17, an MSD student, complained that media and public attention towards shootings is biased towards “white privileged students.”
Hogg, who is white, told peers at Thurgood Marshall: “Your voices are just as important as mine.”
Cameron Kasky, 17, also from MSD, added: “It happened in our community once – but you guys are the experts on this. This is a war you’ve been thrust into all your lives and your voices haven’t been heard. We’re here to listen.”
Just as they had on Valentine’s Day, the children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High streamed through the gates of their school, ready for classes. Only today, there were 17 fewer of them.
Grief counsellors, therapy dogs and — out of sight — deputies armed with AR-15 assault rifles, the same weapon used by a former student to shoot dead 14 students and three teachers two weeks ago, were on hand to ease pupils back for the first time since horror struck their school.
“Remember our focus is on emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum, so there is no need for backpacks,” Ty Thompson, the school principal, told students — known as Eagles — on the eve of their return.
“Come ready to start the healing process and reclaim the nest,” he said.
Police and sheriff’s deputies lined the roads outside the school in Parkland, Florida, in a show of support. Mounted police lined up on horses.
Local residents came out to offer hugs.
Some students drove themselves to school, parked and walked in arm-in-arm with friends. Others were dropped off by teary-eyed parents, some of whom vowed to stay outside all morning until their children’s return.
Fred Guttenberg used to say goodbye to two children each morning, but watched as just one walked back in with his friends. His daughter Jaime, 14, was shot fatally in the back while running down a school hallway to flee the gunman; his son Jesse, 17, escaped.
“It’s bittersweet seeing my son go back, but my daughter isn’t going back and that’s not something that’s easy to wake up to,” Mr Guttenberg said outside, standing across from Building 12, the three-storey block where the massacre occurred.
The building is now ringed by a fence that has been slung with hundreds of banners sent from students at other schools, signed by tens of thousands of students and bearing messages of support. An ocean of flowers covers the grass verges outside the school, centred around 17 wooden crosses marked with the victims’ names.
Ironically, Mr Guttenberg now longer has to worry about school security.
“It’s the safest school in America right now,” he said. “But it’s still the scene of where my daughter unfortunately was murdered and it’s hard to connect those dots and feel OK.”
Andrew Pollack’s 18-year-old daughter, Meadow, had “a smile like sunshine” that he misses every day. “Every second of my life is difficult now she’s gone, so coming back here actually helps. I like seeing the kids go to school, being kids that are alive and moving and getting back to learning,” he said.
Since the massacre, he has not joined the survivors’ calls for gun reform and an assault weapons ban, focusing instead on moves to strengthen school safety — a message that he articulated personally at a “listening session” with President Donald Trump at the White House a week ago.
“Kids should be studying, they should be with their books and their friends, having a laugh, enjoying a drink, getting an education, that’s what I was doing when I was their age, not worrying about anyone coming to shoot them. The safety thing is what we need to be doing, the adults,” he said.
David Clemente, a volunteer with the Guardian Angel vigilante group, stood outside the school in his distinctive red uniform, striking a tough arms-crossed pose. As he tried to speak, however, tears came.
“Seeing this gets me choked up. The Guardian Angels have been going through this cycle of shootings and memorials for years. For years,” he said. “You’ll see me out here every day for the whole school year. I don’t get paid for this, but I’ll be here. This is what it takes to raise a village.”
Frank DeAngelis, who was principal at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, in which 12 students and a teacher were killed, spoke with Mr Thompson before yesterday’s reopening to offer advice. Do not have balloons around the school to welcome students back because if they pop, children will be diving for cover, he told him, and have plenty of substitutes on hand, ready to step in when teachers break down.
He has been asked many times “When does it get back to normal?” He responds: “It never gets back to normal.”
From grieving survivors to outspoken advocates for gun reform, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas captured the world’s attention in the aftermath of the deadliest high school shooting in the United States.
In between funerals for 14 classmates and three adult teachers, memorial services, and vigils by candlelight, the teenagers, and some of their parents, faced off with elected senators on national television, travelled more than 800 miles to confront Florida’s lawmakers in the state’s capital and directly challenged the powerful National Rifle Association, fervent upholders of the constitutional “right of the people to keep and bear arms”.
Tens of thousands of students at high schools across the country walked out of lessons in solidarity. Celebrities including George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey donated millions of dollars to support a nationwide March for Our Lives next month to protest against gun violence. And Stoneman Douglas students and their families joined parents of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting to meet with Donald Trump at the White House and renew calls for action on gun reform.
On Wednesday, exactly two weeks after the Parkland tragedy, students will return to their classes and attempt to rebuild lives and futures shattered by what what one teenager called “17 shots right to the heart of this community”. But the young adults who have sparked a youth protest movement in the US drawing comparison with the revolt against the Vietnam war are steadfast in their determination to press forward with their campaign and bring an end to school shootings.
These are the stories of five people whose lives were changed forever by the massacre in Parkland.
Kasky is the forthright 17-year-old who seized the microphone during a live televised discussion on gun control and demanded of Florida’s Republican senator Marco Rubio: “Can you tell me right now you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?”
As a founder of the school’s #NeverAgain movement, Kasky has also been its most vocal, his bluntness cutting straight to the sole objective of the students’ campaign: ending gun violence in schools.
“I appreciate thoughts and prayers from anybody who can’t do more, but there are people in the legislature who are sending thoughts and prayers who are doing less than my freaking grandmother,” he said.
“I want to think there’s some greater power in government that for some reason wants this to stop, but the truth of the matter is the only power comes from us.”
Kasky points out that he and his classmates will be old enough to vote in the 2020 presidential election, and he will use the time until then pressing for gun reform. “We are on the cusp of our adulthood and ready to knock out the people who are not with us,” he said.
“If you ask anybody about me, it’s Cameron Kasky doesn’t know how to shut his damn mouth. I need to put that to good use now.”
“My house is broken, and honestly I don’t know how we fix it,” Guttenberg said of the death of his 14-year-old daughter Jaime, a talented dancer. “She created the laughter in our house, everywhere she went people loved her and loved being with her.”
The grieving father was another to call out Rubio, calling the r politician who has taken more than $3m from the NRA in campaign contributions as “pathetically weak” in his response to the shooting.
But Guttenberg is determined to find purpose in Jaime’s murder and has pledged himself to joining his daughter’s classmates in campaigning for a nationwide ban on assault weapons such as the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle the Stoneman Douglas killer used.
“I don’t want to hear people say they got shot. They got hunted and this was the only weapon that could do it,” he said. “My house is changed forever because she got hunted at school. These kids were killed by a weapon of war in our schools and these weapons need to be removed from our streets. We need to make it impossible for people to get those guns.
“I will not stop. I’m going to be relentless. This must never happen again.”
Calderon, 16, was dismayed at what he saw as a brush-off by Florida’s lawmakers when he and 100 Stoneman Douglas students took buses to Tallahassee to challenge them on gun reform. With survivors of the shooting watching from the gallery, the politicians voted to not even debate a proposed assault weapons ban in the state.
“We aren’t being taken seriously enough,” Calderon said. “People think that maybe because we’ve been through a traumatic experience we don’t know what we’re talking about, we’re speaking irrationally. But trust me, we understand.
“I was in a closet for four hours with people I’d consider almost family, crying and weeping, begging for their lives. I understand what it’s like to text my parents, ‘Goodbye. I might never get to see you again. I love you.’ I understand what it’s like to fear for your life. I don’t think we should ever be silenced because we are ‘just’ children.”
Calderon, an eloquent speaker and #NeverAgain leader, told why he thinks the Parkland shooting will be the tragedy to bring change.
“Finally it happened to a school in a high end neighbourhood with well educated, articulate and affluent people. This time for once, instead of grieving, we got straight to the point about how gun laws need to be changed,” he said.
With her striking buzz cut and no-nonsense demeanour, Gonzalez is the most recognisable face of the Stoneman Douglas student survivors. Her passionate speech at a gun control demonstration in Fort Lauderdale three days after the shooting was widely applauded and spawned the “I call BS” rallying call of the #NeverAgain movement as she denounced the gun lobby.
At 18 and a high school senior, Gonzalez is also among the oldest of the survivors and until the shooting was visiting colleges she hopes to attend after graduation this summer to study theatre. Now she is fully focused on removing from office politicians who take money from the NRA or who refuse to support the stricter regulation of guns.
“We don’t want these people in charge of us any more. We have to be the politicians in this instance,” Gonzalez said in an interview with People.
“We have to be the people calling for change, demanding change.”
One of the most powerful and memorable moments of the week following the shooting came when Gonzalez stood up to Dana Loesch, spokesperson for NRA, during the televised debate. Gonzalez told her: “We will support your two children in a way that you will not,” referring to the students’ determination to outlaw the same assault weapons that the NRA insists are a constitutional right to possess.
Yared’s stirring speech to thousands of activists and gun reform supporters on the steps of the state capitol building in Tallahassee might prove to be a defining moment of the campaign. The 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas junior was composed but determined as she tore into Washington politicians for their inaction.
“To Congress, you are directly responsible for every community that has lost people to gun violence. You have the power to change this and if you don’t we will change you. We will vote you out,” she said.
“No, this is not too soon. No, this is not the wrong time. If we wait your children might become victims too.”
Yared, whose 15-year-old sister also survived the massacre by hiding in a classroom, revealed why her words were so heartfelt.
“My parents are from Lebanon. They grew up in war and had to change high school because theirs was completely destroyed by bombs,” she said. “And they always had to leave their classes to shelter from bombs.
“They moved to America to give me and my siblings a better future so we won’t have to deal with the difficulty they went through. This is very similar. That’s why we want to make sure this never happens again.”
Ten weeks ago, David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez trudged into a farmer’s field with fellow members of their school astronomy club equipped with a laptop computer, a weather balloon, and a 2ft tall model of a house based on the animated Pixar film, Up.
They were part of Project Aquila, which aimed to send meteorological equipment and cameras into the upper atmosphere to gather data, all fitted to the model house and carried aloft by the balloon. They had worked for weeks, staying late after school some days to check and double-check technicalities – but as they prepared for launch that day, disappointment struck as the helium-filled balloon on which it all depended broke loose and flew off, minus its payload.
“I guess we learned a little about adversity that day,” said Hogg, 17.
“But after the last few days, I guess we’ve learned a whole lot more about adversity.”
Now children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, long for the days when the definition of adversity was just a failed science experiment. Now, it is measured by the body-count of their dead friends, by blood, funerals, grieving families, post-traumatic stress, political struggle and the abuse and hatred they have encountered for taking on the deeply polarising issue of gun reform following the massacre of 17 students and staff.
Hogg, a student journalist a the helm of the #NeverAgain movement that he, his best friend Emma, Cameron Kasky and others have established, has had death threats, his mother revealed.
Online trolls have spun conspiracy theories that he is a paid actor hired to spread left-wing propaganda, accused him of being an FBI stooge, a Democratic puppet They have levelled foul-mouthed vitriole and said he is “dancing on graves for his cause.”
His sister Lauren, 14 – who lost four friends in the shooting – has had neo-Nazi abuse posted on her social media account, telling her to die. The family has been forced into an upheaval the details of which they cannot share publicly because of the need to keep their movements and whereabouts guarded– but it involves the FBI, sheriff’s deputies and a lot of fear.
“Can you imagine that? Death threats. These are kids, their friends died, they’re trying to do something about it, and they get death threats,” Hogg’s mother, Rebecca, told The Times.
“It’s really hard on Lauren seeing this attention on her brother, really really hard. She’s 14, she logs onto her Instagram account and sees a comment saying: ‘Die, horse-skank.’ I’ve been called a hard parent, a cold-hearted bitch steering my son on some agenda. Every one of those freaks saying stuff like that just makes us more determined.
“Do I worry about his safety? Yes. But is that going to stop us? No,” said Mrs Boldrick, 51, who works as a teacher at a different school. “If my son and Emma and all those other kids weren’t making a difference, these people wouldn’t be pissed at them. Change terrifies people.”
Following intense lobbying and public pressure, Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott, presented legislative proposals yesterday that include raising the minimum age for buying guns in Florida from 18 to 21, and measures to make it “virtually impossible” for people with mental health problems to use guns.
He called for an armed law enforcement officer to be posted in every Florida school, and $500 million for improved mental health counselling in schools. The plan also calls for improved protection methods including metal detectors and steel doors, and ‘active shooter’ training for all staff and students.
Scott, a member of the National Rifle Association, stopped short, however, of meeting the students’ call for a ban on assault weapons. “I’ve listened to their ideas to make sure this never happens again…It took a lot of guts. What they have gone through is devastating,” said Gov.Scott.
Boldrick was in her classroom on February 14 when a text from Lauren popped up. “Code red, active shooter. I love you mom,” it said. David, meanwhile, was already in action, videoing, gathering information.
“Basically, he was born at 40 years old. He was born with his eyes wide open and in the hospital they said this is rare, that if you’re born with your eyes open it means this person will go on to change the world. He’s a deep thinker, he drifts…But on this, he’s focused.”
David said: “The trolls – they’re deflating but also invigorating. It’s a pretty good thing because they’re making sure our voices are being heard. My Twitter following just tripled. People don’t want to accept this is the new reality of America. ..People think I was too well spoken to be an actual child and to that I say ‘Thank you. Thank you for being disgraceful and immature because you just bought this cause even more publicity.’”
Police and paramedics from the neighbouring town of Coral Springs, which merges into Parkland and where 60 per cent of Stoneman Douglas students live, shared stories of heartbreak and heroism yesterday. Some broke down as they relived the drama.
“What bothers me is that I wish I could have got there sooner and stopped this,” said Chris Crawford, a former US Marine who has been with the police force for 15 years.
“It’s awful, it’s as bad as you can imagine times ten,” he answered when asked about how the shooting had affected him. “It’s hard. It’s awful. I have a two-year-old and I don’t want to send them to school.”
He was one of the first on scene. “I was told to clear the parking lot looking for injured students or faculty, and look for the bad guy…we didn’t want to get ambushed…I was thinking ‘He’s either going to be killed by me, I’m going to be killed by him, or I’m going to help an injured child,” Crawford said.
He found a 14-year-old boy bleeding from multiple bullet wounds. “He said he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t walk, so I laid him down on the grass,” he said, describing how he packed a gauze combat dressing into the biggest wound then got another officer to “put his knee into this kid’s back” to keep pressure on the gaping wound.
Sergeant Jeff Heinrich, a police officer, was off-duty on the day of the shooting and was at Stoneman Douglas – where his son is a pupil and his wife an assistant atheletics director – doing voluntary work, watering and weeding the baseball field. He heard the fire alarm go off, saw children walking out calmly, then heard shots. He dropped the hose and ran to the parking lot, wherehe found a teenager named Kyle bleeding from a “massive gunshot wound”.
He grabbed the boy, took him to the clubhouse for first aid, then ran back towards the shooting. A SWAT team member had a spare bulletproof vest, which he threw on over his shorts and T-shirt, and thrust him a spare weapon. Together, they went in search of the shooter, but later found that he had slipped away. After that. He called his wife, who had sheltered with 62 students including their son/
“By the grace of God they found each other and were abe to shelter in place,” he wept, lowering his head for several minutes to compose himself. “It was surreal. It took until the second round of shots fired, and the actual reaction of the kids, for me to actually believe it was happening….you have to hope that it would never happen. But it did.
It was a heart-stopping moment that will weigh on Debby Stout for a lifetime. “Mom, there’s a shooter,” she heard her daughter Liz, 17, whisper down the phone as shots rang out along the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Mrs Stout, who was at home, screamed her daughter’s name in panic, then tried to compose herself. “I can’t scream, I’ll get her killed,” she thought, knowing that she had been trained to get down and be quiet.
As Liz fell silent and bullets flew through the smashed window of her classroom door and four friends lay wounded, moaning for help, Mrs Stout could not help herself. “Liz!” she screamed. “Then the line goes dead,” she said. “It was absolutely the worst moment of my life. I thought when that phone went dead I had lost her.”
Liz sheltered under a desk and when a student dialled 911 but could not speak she nudged closer and gave the address.
She survived, as did three of the four friends who were shot. The fourth, Carmen Schentrup, 16, did not. Liz attended her funeral yesterday, the fourth she has been to in four days.
“I didn’t watch a classmate die two feet away from me for people in charge to do nothing,” said Liz, who along with the rest of the community is demanding change.
As 100 students boarded buses to Tallahassee, the state capital, straight from friends’ funerals to demand a ban on the weapons that killed them, Liz joined the voices driving a nationwide movement forcing politicians to listen. “Prayers and condolences and sending love and flowers is all nice but it doesn’t solve the issue,” she said. “The issue is these weapons and what we’re going to do about them.
“This is personal. Carmen was two feet away from me and she was murdered and that’s just the final straw. I saw my friend’s blood and that needs to matter, right on up to the president.”
Her father, Richard, is an FBI agent familiar with the AR-15, a semi-automatic assault rifle that fires bullets that rip into the body and ricochet off the bones. It was the gun used by Nikolas Cruz, 19, and which Mr Stout said was sold to the public “with the same vigour as Big Macs”.
After hearing from her daughter, Debby drove to the school. “I couldn’t even turn onto the main road because of the line of police cars all shooting by, one after the other after the other,” she said. When she got there, she saw her husband arrive and join his FBI colleagues, armed and clad in body armour.
Liz had taken shelter under a teacher’s desk, then moved out to make way for others and crouched by a wall. She helped to throw a jacket over one of the injured. “Help me, seriously, help me,” he was moaning. Another student had placed a 911 call, but could barely speak into the phone for shock. Liz nudged closer and spoke the address clearly into the phone.
Jenny, Liz’s older sister, echoes her family’s exasperation. “Without description of the tiniest of details, this can easily be made as just another shooting, in which someone in another state watches the coverage on the news for five minutes, chalks it up to being ‘sad’, and then goes on about their life. This isn’t sad, this is disgusting, it should anger every American,” she said.
Liz, noting that the president spent the weekend tweeting about Robert Mueller’s investigation but was largely silent on the massacre, said: “When the one person you look to for leadership and who you put your hope in is failing you and sending tweets about Russia when 17 of your school have just been murdered, you have to call it out. That’s not leadership. Now it’s the students who are providing the leadership.”
President Trump reacted to mounting pressure yesterday, ordering his attorney-general “to propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns”.
He promised action on “bump-stocks”, devices that can be fitted to semi-automatic weapons and allow a continuous hail of bullets to be fired with one pull of the trigger. Bump-stocks, which are legal, were used by a gunman who killed 58 people in Las Vegas in October.
The White House also said that setting an age limit for buying AR-15-type assault rifles was under consideration. “I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks,” a spokeswoman for Mr Trump said.