For those of us who were lucky enough to come of age in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, our high school memories were filled with mostly good times and relative innocence. Even though our parents likely felt they were raising their kids during scary times, in relation to what parents face today, ignorance was bliss.
On Feb. 14 everything changed for the town where my wife and I chose to raise our children. Before now, many people in Florida, and even some in Broward County, didn’t know where Parkland was on a map. Today, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is front and center on the world’s stage. We chose Parkland because of its excellent schools, open spaces and top sports programs. Paramount to our decision was its safety. But on that terrible day, there was nothing safe about the images that flashed on TV screens across the country.
I was informed of the unfolding events by a neighbor. My doorbell rang multiple times, followed by a persistent banging. I opened the door to find my neighbor, whose daughter attends the same school as mine, hysterically crying. She asked me if I heard what happened. I assume the puzzled look on my face told her I hadn’t. Unsuccessfully choking back tears she said, “There’s been a shooting at the school, and Hannah is not responding to texts.” There is nothing that prepares you for the moment you hear these words about your daughter.
As I stood in disbelief, trying to process this information, the phone rang. It was my wife, calmly asking if I knew what was happening. I confirmed I did. Before I could get another word out, she cut me off with the single most important sentence she’s ever said to me: “Hannah is safe.” She, along with her classmates, went to the back of the campus, jumped a fence and kept running. In a way, I was lucky to find out how I did. The time between hearing about the shooting and learning my daughter was safe was no more than 20 seconds.
However, I had other family members in direct proximity to the horror that was still unfolding. I have two nephews who attend the same school, as well as a son who attends the middle school right next door. Because the shooter was still at large, this nightmare wasn’t over. I immediately sent a text to my son. No response. Thankfully, his school was placed on lock-down when the shooting started. I texted my sister and found out her oldest son was at home sick, but her other son was barricaded in a classroom.
Thanks only to the quick thinking by my nephew’s teacher, she spared her students from almost certainly being shot. Sensing something was wrong, she didn’t evacuate them when the fire alarm went off for the second time that day. A code red alert went out over the intercom, so she locked the door and huddled the students into a back corner of the room. Despite the shooter banging on the door, nobody moved. The gunfire outside the door was so powerful the floor shook. Later on, while being evacuated by police, these children saw firsthand what no person should ever experience, let alone a 14-year-old.
Turning on the TV, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Makeshift triage centers set up on the corner I’ve driven by hundreds of times with my children. First responders doing their best under circumstances nobody can prepare for. After all, this is Parkland, “the safest town in Florida.”
I am not naive enough to think this isn’t a multi-faceted problem with many moving parts. Mental health care in this country is not adequate, clearly. But easy access to guns has to be at the forefront of the conversation in order to prevent future school shootings. We need to stop using the term “gun control,” as it’s a dog whistle that immediately shuts down conversations through which middle ground could be found. Calling it “common sense gun legislation” is the better term. I do not believe the federal government wants to take guns away from law-abiding, responsible citizens.
Any rational person can surely see that allowing an 18-year-old to legally purchase a weapon that can inflict so much damage in such a short amount of time is not smart. This law has to change, immediately. (At press time, a gun restriction bill was awaiting action from Gov. Rick Scott.) I am not a gun guy—never have been—but I fully support people who choose to arm themselves to defend their person or property. This is not about that. This is about access to a weapon being used as an instrument to slaughter innocent children. There have to be stiffer background checks. The status quo on this issue is not acceptable.
Parents should be helping their teens pick out prom dresses and tuxedos, not coaching them on the appropriate attire for their classmates’ funerals.
I am in favor of teachers who choose to carry in order to protect themselves and their students. Having one armed police officer on a campus housing 3,200 students is not adequate protection. There needs to be multiple officers qualified to engage an active shooter, and our government has to find the money. Protecting our most vital resource, our children, has to take precedence over all else.
This wasn’t an isolated, wayward person operating under the radar. This individual did everything but announce the day and time he was going to play out his deranged fantasy. Yet, so many did so little to prevent the carnage. We’re told by law enforcement: “If you see something, say something.” This was done multiple times by various sources. The FBI had solid tips dropped right in their laps, and they did nothing. Their hollow apologies aren’t good enough— certainly not for the families of the 17 victims lost or the untold number of children who will forever be scarred.
This is not going to be swept under the proverbial carpet and forgotten about until the next massacre of innocents. This town is not going to let this go. Parents should be helping their teens pick out prom dresses and tuxedos, not coaching them on the appropriate attire for their classmates’ funerals.
Already we’ve seen Parkland’s teens mobilize in ways other communities haven’t. We’re now part of a club no town wants to be part of. But, this town is coming together in ways I never thought possible. We’re mad. We’re unified. We’re Parkland, strong.
In memory of the 17 victims who lost their lives to this tragic event:
Alyssa Alhadeff (14)
Martin Duque Anguiano (14)
Scott Beigel (35)
Nicholas Dworet (17)
Aaron Feis (37)
Jaime Guttenberg (14)
Chris Hixon (49)
Luke Hoyer (15)
Cara Loughran (14)
Gina Montalto (14)
Joaquin Oliver (17)
Alaina Petty (14)
Meadow Pollack (18)
Helena Ramsay (17)
Alex Schachter (14)
Carmen Schentrup (16)
Peter Wang (15)