TALLAHASSEE, FL — They spent the night on cots and sleeping bags after busing 400 miles to Florida’s state capital to bring their message straight to lawmakers: #Never again. But on the one week anniversary of the mass shooting that catapulted their suburban high school into the latest ground zero for the gun control debate, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors were faced with a setback. The politicians they were going to meet had voted not to consider a bill that would ban assault rifles.
“I’m looking forward to talking to the legislators who voted down the bill yesterday and just hearing their point of view,” a Stoneman Douglas student told a Miami television crew after arriving in Tallahassee.
But as the adults dealt their week-old movement a blow, thousands of fellow high school students in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties took up their call, leaving classrooms in peaceful marches to show solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas students.
“We want to show support for those who lost their lives,” said one student to Local 10 News in Miami.
“It feels really important because this is really a problem,” offered another.
Students at Hialeah High School in Miami-Dade County formed a giant heart on the football field outside their school on Wednesday. Some carried signs that read: “Justice 4 Douglas.” Similar marches took place at Coral Gables High School and at Archimedean Upper Conservatory Charter School in Miami. They spread to other schools around the United States as teenagers far and wide realized that no ZIP code is immune from the type of attack that claimed 17 lives at Stoneman Douglas.
The Parkland school students also were lifted by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney and Steven Spielberg who each donated $500,000 to the upcoming “March for Our Lives” rally planned for next month in Washington, D.C.
George and Amal, I couldn’t agree with you more. I am joining forces with you and will match your $500,000 donation to ‘March For Our Lives.’ These inspiring young people remind me of the Freedom Riders of the 60s who also said we’ve had ENOUGH and our voices will be heard.— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) February 20, 2018
Despite the legislative setback, the Stoneman Douglas students pressed on with a planned rally Wednesday in Tallahassee. They hoped that it would put pressure on the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws, something some GOP lawmakers said they would consider. Shortly after the shooting, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand and they appeared shaken afterward.
“We’re what’s making the change. We’re going to talk to these politicians tomorrow. We’re going to talk to them the day after that. We’re going to keep talking, we’re going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can’t happen anymore,” vowed Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior at Stoneman Douglas. “You guys are what we’re trying to protect.”
Despite their enthusiasm and determination, the students and their supporters aren’t likely to leave Tallahassee with what they really want: a ban on AR-15s and similar semi-automatic rifles. Republican lawmakers are talking more seriously about some restrictions, but not a total ban.
“I don’t think we should ever be silenced because we are just children. I am extremely, extremely angry and sad. I don’t know if I’m going to be traumatized by this,” said Calderon. “This is more than just us. This is everybody in America. This is for every kid who fears for their life.”
Another student shared his experience as the gunman roamed the halls killing teenagers and teachers. He had the added misfortune of matching the shooter’s description as he tried to make his way to safety.
“I had the same clothes, the same color, the same facial structure,” he said. “The SWAT comes in and I thought they were here to rescue me. But then, as I actually go down the stairs, I found out that I was wrong. I found out that they thought it was me who killed the 17 people … When I went out those doors I had six SWAT members pointing their guns at me. I was tossed to the ground. I was unjustly cuffed and held at gunpoint for the degrading and depreciating action of the disturbed individual, Nikolas Cruz.”
He added that he was placed in a corner under guard by a policewoman for the rest of the evening. He didn’t know if he would be let go. He didn’t know how his friends were doing and he said he felt guilty that his physical appearance took time away from finding the real killer.
“We know there’s going to be change in this country,” he said to applause. “Never again should a tragedy of this caliber happen in this country. Never again.”
The groundswell of support for the Stoneman Douglas students is undeniable.
“It’s all about the students,” Principal Charles Neely of Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Florida told a television news crew as thousands of his students marched in a school-sanctioned event on Wednesday that featured remarks by three Stoneman Douglas survivors. “I cried like a baby every night.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Students at Hialeah Senior High School spontaneously form a heart to show solidarity with the survivors and victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting. Photo courtesy of Tbred Journalism, Hialeah Senior High School.