Nicole Ardila / Contributing Writer
On Valentine’s Day 2018, a day usually filled with love, tragedy stole the lives of 17 South Florida teenagers.
Three years ago, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walked in excited to celebrate a day of love with their friends and dates. With about 40 minutes left of class, a former student walked in with an assault rifle and killed 17 students and injured 14 others.
This tragedy has made Valentine’s Day a difficult holiday to endure for many families, friends and South Florida communities. The shooting reformed school safety protocols and encouraged students to advocate for gun control. Young activists have organized movements, sparking gun violence awareness all over the nation, to prevent a devastation like this from ever happening again.
It’s been three years now, and it seems like people buried this issue in the past, despite the hard-work these survivors have accomplished.
I remember I was in tenth grade riding the school bus talking to my friends about what they were doing later that day. Then, all of a sudden, my friend looks at her phone and tells me there was a school shooting just 30 minutes away from us. At first, I didn’t believe her because if you’ve lived in South Florida, you know kids make false threats all the time.
When I got home, I turned on the news, and there it was, a helicopter view of the school with police and ambulances everywhere. Parents bawled and students stood in shock. It hit close to home; my parents and I had tears streaming down our faces, hugging each other tightly. It could’ve been me who didn’t come back home that day, it could’ve been my classmates or teachers, it could’ve happened in any of our schools.
The next day, schools held a moment of silence at 10:17 a.m. and students wore black to remember the 17 lives lost.
There were school walkouts nationwide to fight for gun control. This was a huge student-led movement against the system that allowed this tragedy to occur.
Thousands of students left school to march for gun reform—an issue that still hasn’t been addressed even after the unfortunate shootings in Columbine High School in 1999, and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. People are growing tired of watching these tragedies occur, one after another.
While many are passionate about regulating guns, others believe the issue is the people holding the weapon. President Donald Trump addressed the matter as a “mental-health” issue, referring to the shooter as “mentally disturbed” and how the “FBI could’ve prevented this massacre if they weren’t so caught up with the Russia probe”.
Two sides formed surrounding this issue: mental health vs. gun control. Many pinned the blame on Trump and the National Rifle Association, but is this something they really could’ve prevented? The blame shouldn’t be pinned on anyone but the perpetrator himself and the system that allowed him to purchase the assault weapon in the first place.
This year is the first anniversary with a new administration. President Joe Biden promised to make gun control legislation, such as banning the sale of assault weapons, regulating their possession, and creating a program to buy back those out in the streets.
“Gun control laws became the main topic, rather than the issue of 17 lives that were taken by another human” said Brandon Minoff, Parkland massacre survivor, three years ago.
Minoff is right. This tragedy shouldn’t have become a political debate, it should’ve focused on the victims, their families, and how this event impacted students.
The March for Our Lives movement, started by student activist and Parkland survivor, Emma González, aimed to make this event an unforgettable tragedy. The problem now, is that this issue has been slowly forgotten, just like everyone feared it would be.
In 2018, González gave a speech in front of an estimated 800,000 people, at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. Leaving us all in chills and tears, she described how horrifying it was to survive the shooting, and how difficult it was to even go back to school. González didn’t just speak for herself, she spoke for students everywhere, who don’t feel safe going to school anymore.
This movement was raging, it was emotional, it was powerful, but it’s silent now. It feels like the issue has been swept under the rug.
Many of the survivors have built organizations, met with politicians and school boards and started social movements. Co-founders of the March for Our Lives, Emma González and David Hogg, were first-time voters for the 2020 election, and focused on engaging others in gun reform.
Many survivors have been featured in documentaries and interviewed by the media. This includes a former neighbor of mine, Carlitos Rodriguez, who I’ve lost contact with over the years. I found out that he attended the high school and survived the shooting. Rodriguez started Stories Untold US to give a platform for others who’ve been affected by social injustices as well.
Since the shooting, school lockdown drills have changed significantly. Teachers tell us to turn off the lights, our phones, hide against the walls and stay silent. Yet, the first thing a student would realistically do, is text their parents, cry and sob with fear or run for their lives.
One day in my senior year of high school, I was heading out of class, when all of a sudden, everybody started running as my teacher screamed in the hall for everyone to get inside. Nobody had a clue if this was a drill or not, but I was panicking, my heart was pounding and I wasn’t sure if I should text my parents. After five minutes in the dark, hiding under my teacher’s desk, an announcement went off thanking everyone for a drill well done. Since we didn’t have a heads-up about the drill, we were still all shaking and startled in our next period.
These lockdown drills are becoming too realistic, alerting, stressful and traumatizing after what we’ve seen; Especially for my generation, and those who come after.
The solution isn’t preparing for this type of situation, it’s preventing it.
This Valentine’s Day, we need to appreciate the friends and family we have here with us. We should cherish and remind them we love them, also keeping in mind those who lost their loved ones on this bittersweet holiday. Let us all remember, the 17 lost in gun violence, and support those who fight to protect our kids.
The City of Parkland continues its tradition to commemorate the 17 lives lost, this Sunday, February 14. They are offering a virtual format, or you may attend in-person at Pine Trails Park, 10559 Trail Ends, Parkland, FL, at 5:30 p.m.
In memory of:
Alyssa Alhadeff (14)
Scott Beigel (35)
Martin Duque Anguiano (14)
Nicholas Dworet (17)
Aaron Feis (37)
Jamie 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)
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash