Emma González, 18, sat crouched in the small space between one row of chairs and the next in her school’s auditorium. A fire alarm had just went off and González was standing outside with a few friends when she saw band kids running back into their building. Soon there were security guards rushing everyone back inside, in whatever building was closest.
The auditorium held two classes before the fire alarm went off, but now there were at least 250 students hiding behind their chairs just as González was. Like most kids, at first she did not know if the red alert–which indicates that there is an active shooter on campus–was real.
“I spent a lot of time looking at the kids around me and saying, ‘Listen to me: we are not going to die. The universe will hear me and we will not die. Not today,’” González said.
After forty minutes of waiting, she received a text from someone outside the school asking if she was okay. That is when she knew it was real.
“I had friends to my left and to my right,” she said. “These were the people that I needed to be there for. I fluctuated between being scared and trying to crack jokes to keep the situation light, and keep everybody around me positive and keep everybody from bursting into tears.”
On Feb. 14, former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Nikolas Cruz, brought an AR-15 gun to school and opened fire. Seventeen people died, some of them as young as 14 years old.
Cruz attacked the 1200 building, which housed mostly freshmen classes, in the last minutes of the school day. He pulled the fire alarm–coincidentally the second time it was used that day–in order to get people out of classrooms.
“It wasn’t really a big surprise to us when we found out it was [Cruz],” junior Emily Melamed said.
Melamed also discovered the severity of the situation from an outside text message. She was in the portable classrooms of the school, on the opposite side of campus from the 1200 building where the shooting took place, so that area was the last to know what was going on in the moment.
“Until we figured out what was going on, it was like survival. Just get away as fast as you can. We weren’t really thinking. I was definitely scared though, because they said they hadn’t found him yet and we were still outside,” she said.
Her class was among the many that were moved into the local Walmart nearby the school.
Conversely, senior Amanda Cohen recalled hiding in the back of her class with around 50 other students. Information was getting around quickly and she found out that people had died at about 3:30 p.m.
“It felt surreal and like I was in a dream,” she said. “The fear I felt was indescribable and my heart was beating out of my chest.”
Following that period of time dominated by the need for survival, the weight of what had happened brought down the entire community of Parkland, but especially the students at Stoneman Douglas. The next day, a vigil was held in the town to mourn those lost and commemorate their lives. Kids and parents and teachers and community members stood, leaning on each other, candle in hand, honoring those seventeen lives together.
“I felt I could never be happy again or I’d feel guilty for being happy,” Cohen said.
Soon after a speech made by González went viral on the internet, she became the first of several survivors to cause a disturbance and make her voice heard. With tears in her eyes and her voice shaking, González repeated the phrase “We call B.S.” and the crowd of thousands chanted with her.
The speech was directed towards politicians and lawmakers with the purpose of making some kind of change, of making sure that no one forgets what happened in Parkland. In addition to an endless stream of uplifting comments and positive attention, many people attacked survivors like González for sharing her voice.
“None of us are crisis actors,” González said. “Nobody needs to be coached on how to feel.”
They are making people pay attention.
“We are refusing to be forgotten. We are very, very loud, and we have clear, concise and true messages to get across,” she said. “No one can stop us now. You can’t shut up kids who have hope.”
Melamed believes that technology and social media have been influential in separating this shooting from the dozens that have come before it.
“We were able to record a lot of it. I think that gives a perspective as to what actually happened. We were able to know people’s perspectives during it,” Melamed said.
Now, it has been over two weeks since the shooting and school has resumed for Stoneman Douglas students. They are reacquainting themselves with one another, helping each other to heal. Therapy dogs come in often to help make the students feel better.
Many students have gotten tattoos to commemorate this tragedy so that they never have the possibility of ever forgetting, González said.
“Some moments it feels like nothing ever happened, sometimes it’s all I can think about,” Cohen said.
González said that her way of mourning is to take action and to do what she can to stop this from happening to somebody else, from happening to everybody else.
“It’s a big deal because we made it one,” Melamed said.
González’s confessed that her lowest moment was at the funeral of Carmen Schentrup, one of the seventeen who died. She was sitting there, dressed in black and in-and-out of crying.
“The pastor said: ‘Carmen Schentrup was taken way before her time. Her birthday would’ve been tomorrow. There are so many people out here who are going to stop this from happening. There are so many people in this community who are going to make a change.’ And I thought, he’s talking about me. I just lost it. I was gone,” she said. “In that moment I could barely breathe, sobbing. I could not hold it together.”
This tragedy has deeply affected the community of Parkland, Melamed said. She is proud of her town.
“Parkland will be known not for its shooting, but for where this revolution began,” González said.