By Maria Gabriela Bolivar Gomez
It would be logical to assume that school is one of the safest places a kid can be. But, for some, while their children should be focusing on learning, the teachers and parents are constantly hoping the next shooter doesn’t select their school.
For about the last 50 years, various school shootings have taken place across the U.S., dividing communities and spreading tragedy - so often that it has become normalized.
There has been at least one school shooting per year since the ‘70s, according to a tracker by EducationWeek. This year alone, 30 active shootings have taken place on American school grounds.
But one of the deadliest shootings of the century took place back on Feb. 14, 2018 here in Florida.
It was a regular Valentine’s Day for students celebrating love and friendship at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But it all took a tragic turn in less than 20 minutes. The shooter, expelled student Nikolas Cruz, entered the school at 2:19 p.m., carrying a black duffel bag with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he legally purchased at 19. By 2:21 p.m., shots were fired, 11 victims were dead and 13 were injured. Then seven minutes later at 2:28 p.m., the number of casualties went up to 15 students and two teachers, plus the 17 survivors who were injured. Cruz was already on his way to a nearby Walmart and Subway, leaving the victims for dead.
It took him less than 10 minutes to get into the school, start shooting, kill and injure innocent lives, and escape-all without an attempt of being stopped. He was found soon after by a Broward County police officer and charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. The defense pleaded guilty to all charges October 2021 and the sentencing phase of the trial continues for the jury’s decision in whether Cruz will receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After the shooting, Americans wanted a change. The shooting caused Stoneman Douglas and other schools in the state to practice active shooter drills and place armed police officers on campus where there were vacancies. Three weeks after the massacre, Florida Governor Rick Scott passed a bill which raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm in Florida to 21.
The devastation of the Parkland shooting put fear in many students and their families.
“I remember watching it all over the news and the terrifying feeling I got from just thinking that this can happen anywhere,” said Brianna Torres, a junior majoring in communication.
Torres met some Stoneman Douglas survivors and parents of victims while attending Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM!) Charter Middle School, a 6-12 grade school in Miami. For her, hearing the pain and sorrow of the parents who lost their children in such an unfair manner seemed like a start to an actual change in the system.
“Just the stories about the last words that these parents had with their children was heartbreaking,” she said. “There wasn’t any specific change to the school system after the event, especially in my school.” For families with children, the fear that arises after incidents like these adds more to the belief the government is failing to protect its students.
“I think that this event caused so much fear that students felt they have to be careful even about going to school,” said Torres.
Being scared where you are supposed to be the safest, in a place for learning and growing, is a harsh reality a lot of students across the nation cope with. It has reached a point where parents have taken it upon themselves to teach their children shooting protocols and even purchase bulletproof backpacks for their little ones.
“I was sitting at the dinner table when my mom told me about the Parkland shooting and sadly my first thought was, ‘Another one?’” said senior Maryland student Mia Tubbs, majoring in translation. “Hopefully people in power decide to make a change to the gun laws.”
Tubbs, Torres, and survivors of the tragedy hope for new policy changes, including new law enforcement protocols when there is an intruder or active shooter in schools. They believe America must re-evaluate its values and come to a consensus on what is safest for the students.