By: Victor Jorges/Assistant News Director
When Nathalia Balderrama walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year on Feb. 14, she had no idea her life would change forever.
Balderrama –who now attends FIU– said when she walked into school, everything felt like a normal day. However, the feeling of normality rapidly faded with the sound of a fire alarm.
“We all ran out. Nobody knew what was going on. Everyone was saying ‘It’s a simulation. They’re practicing.’ Everyone was just trying to evacuate. Teachers were freaking out. Everyone was freaking out.” said Balderrama to Student Media.
The Parkland shooting took the lives of 14 students and three staff members, killed in the deadliest high school shooting since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, which had 15 victims, including both attackers.
Balderrama spent the following day in bed, mostly crying. It was difficult, she said, to understand that such a tragedy could happen to her own school.
Balderrama said she wasn’t able to immediately go home and see her mother because her car was parked in a lot that had been locked. She stayed at a friend’s house that night.
“They had people being escorted into the parking lot by the police to get their car,” said Balderrama.
One year after the tragedy, Balderrama said it’s impossible to know how people will react.
“It’s definitely going to be hard on the day of, just because nobody is going to know how to feel. It’s not something that anyone knows exactly how to deal with,” said Balderrama.
Awareness events, including marches and protests, have been taking place since that day. But, while calling attention to this day might make it harder for some to move on, for Balderrama, it’s part of the healing process.
“It teaches us to cope together, but it doesn’t get easier,” said Balderrama.
To help students and staff cope, the school provided a variety of resources to help students recover from the tragedy. These included therapists, additional security on campus, and therapy dogs.
“There were big golden retrievers in almost every classroom. You could just go up to them and pet them, and they were real nice, of course,” said Balderrama. “I never talked to any of the therapists though. I mostly just spoke with my friends if I ever felt the need to.”
Balderrama played on the basketball team all four years and said everything was affected by this tragedy, including sports teams’ dynamic.
“We had to end up canceling a game because nobody wanted to play and one of our players was in the hospital,” said Balderrama. “I didn’t pick up a basketball for a while after that, it took months and months.”
Returning to the school after they were allowed on campus “was weird,” she said.
“They had clear backpacks, which everyone hated. We had lanyards with IDs that we had to hold up every time we walked into school. We had to have them in the bathroom. They would do searches in the bags even though they were clear,” said Balderrama.
They also had more than 30 police officers walking around amongst the students with large weapons, according to Balderrama. Instead of providing a feeling of security, she said students were uncomfortable and scared.
Student Media reached out to MSD faculty to ask questions regarding some changes that they’ve noticed in the school system, and was redirected to Broward County’s Public Information Office. This office was not able to arrange interviews with students, teachers, staff and families impacted due to issues of confidentiality and privacy.
Balderrama said the entire culture of the school shifted as the people returned to campus after the shooting. Rather than separate into cliques like a “regular” high school, the students came together and became far more comforting instead, she said.
The issue of school shootings is bigger than Parkland, according to Balderrama.
“It’s not just them, it’s people, kids, all over the United States and the world. Not just kids, people in general,” said Balderrama.
Emotionally, this day took a toll on Balderrama who now feels unsafe anywhere she goes.
“It’s pretty bad, but everywhere I go I just think of every possibility that I have and I just try to be careful. It’s a bit paranoid, in a way,” said Balderrama.
Balderrama told Student Media that she is satisfied with the changes that have come from this event, but there’s still a long way to go.
“My classmates were on Twitter and they were able to spread the message to everyone. To celebrities, athletes, everyone. It just brought a lot of awareness to a lot of things that people never saw before,” said Balderrama. “We have hope. We have that.”
Featured image retrieved from Unsplash