I’m from Parkland, Florida. Born and raised. It’s been the place I call home for the last 20 years. Stoneman Douglas was just a high school I would pass by. It was just a normal high school in my small, suburban town. But to the rest of the nation, they only know Parkland as a place where tragedy struck on Valentine’s Day of this year.
I was in a seminar when I was looking at Twitter. I saw one of the top stories was that there was a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. What?? There was no way. One thing I can say about my hometown of Parkland that it’s the safest, most boring suburb in Florida. I remember my hand covering my gaping mouth, as I read on. At that time, they said as many as 12 people died. 12. I thought that was a lot. I wish the number of victims hadn’t eventually reached 17. I had to put my phone away to listen to the seminar. But my mind was racing, thinking about the shooting. I barely even focused on the lecture. Once I could use my phone again, I texted a few of my friends from home. They couldn’t believe it either. My friend said she had gone to middle school with the shooter. I was in complete shock. I went back to my dorm to look at any news updates I could find. I saw countless news anchors lined up across the street from the school. A street I drive on daily when I’m home. I broke down in tears when I heard student interviews. How they witnessed their friends die right before their eyes. How they had to step over bloodied bodies of classmates to get outside. How one girl covered herself with the dead body of one of her classmates, so the shooter thought she was dead. How scared they all were. How they all texted their parents that they loved them. Every bit of news was just utterly heartbreaking. My town was never going to be the same.
It’s been 9 months since the shooting. My town is still healing. I still cry when I think about the 17 people that died that day. The intense rage is there when I think about the shooter. After seeing all the mass shootings since the one in Parkland, I’m livid. It keeps happening. Still. It wasn’t enough for 17 people to die for someone to do something.This debate about how to handle school shootings is extremely nuanced. There is no one solution for this. Yes, I think we need to have stricter gun controls. No, I don’t think the government should take away your guns. I just think we need to have better resources for students who may be feeling alone, depressed, or just angry. There were so many warning signs of the Parkland shooter (I’m not going to say his name or show his face in this article because he wanted notoriety from his vicious murders and he certainly should never get any publicity and he’s certainly will never get it from me) that if he had gotten proper help, this shooting could’ve been prevented. There are too many what if’s that maybe could’ve prevented this shooting. And I know each case of mass shootings is different. I’m not an expert. I’m a 20-year-old from Parkland, Florida who is tired of seeing mass shootings too often in the news. I’m proud of what the teens in my town are doing by starting the March for Our Lives Movement. I’ve never been a political person but at some point you can’t be complacent, and these teens are being anything but silent about what they believe should be done.
I took these pictures over the summer, at a little festival Parkland was having as their version of Coachella that they coined as “Parkchella” (we also have dog park called Barkland, if you want to know how much we like our puns). This was the same park where they held the candlelight vigils for the victims of the shooting. That day the park was filled with tears, pain, and grief. But “Parkchella” was an event that reminded me of why I love Parkland and how close-knit the whole town is. The festival was filled with food, games, laughter, and families and kids just having fun. It reminded me that this is how I see Parkland. Not as just a town where a mass shooting happened, but a town, despite our circumstances, that is healing. Slowly but surely. We are stronger than hatred. We will never forget what happened on February 14, 2018. I hope the 17 lives that we lost will help enact change in gun control, in more available resources for mentally-ill students, and all the other measures that need to be taken so this doesn’t happen again. I know that’s very naïve of me to be so hopeful, as seen by all the other mass shootings that have happened since the Parkland one. I hope people in politics can put their differences aside to come up with a solution. I hope Parkland won’t just become another statistic like Columbine or Sandy Hook. We need change and we need it now.
All photos courtesy of Mary Sills