By ALEXANDRA TIRADO
Two weeks ago, Parkland, Florida was the 15th safest city in America based on FBI crime statistics, according to Florida Today. Last week it became home to the worst shootings at a high school in American history after Nikolas Cruz, 19, shot and killed 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School, according to WLRN.
“I didn’t really believe it at first,” said Samantha Fernandez, an education junior who attended Douglas High. “I was in the library and my friends were texting me that there was a shooting at Douglas and I was just like ‘what? No, that’s a rumor, no way.’”
Fernandez, who graduated from the high school in 2015, describes her hometown as a tight-knit community where everybody had their place. She says that growing up there was a good experience, especially being able to attend Douglas. Remington Baturin, senior in communications and also a Douglas alumnus, agrees.
“My childhood was just amazing,” Baturin said. “My parents moved to Parkland just so I could attend the best school district. Everybody knew each other. You just knew that Douglas was home.”
Fernandez and Baturin along with Cynthia Soowal, a senior communications major and Douglas graduate, have been each other’s support through the ordeal.
“I was texting one of my really good friends from home, as we normally do,” Soowal said. “Then, at 2:36 p.m., he said ‘there is a shooting at Douglas.’ He said there was an active shooter in the freshman building.”
Immediately, Soowal texted all her friends from home, some who have siblings still attending Douglas, to find out if they were okay. Baturin and Fernandez did the same thing, with the worst part being that Fernandez’s sister still attends Douglas.
“Sam’s little sister, Sabrina, is a senior at Douglas,” Baturin said. “I texted Sam to see if she was okay and she was like ‘no, I don’t know, she’s not answering.’ That’s when I knew this was serious.”
Fernandez’s biggest worry was that her sister was very involved on campus, which meant that she could be walking around campus at that very moment. After several attempts to contact her sister, she eventually reached her and Sabrina told Fernandez that she had left school early that day.
Baturin and Sowal, meanwhile, stayed together in Soowal’s room watching the news while Fernandez closely followed through text messages and social media. They said that, because of all the people they knew from home, they would get the videos up to 40 minutes before the news outlets would.
“I got the name of the kid [shooter] before the news even released it,” Soowal said. “I texted Ethan, my friend’s brother, and he was like, ‘do you know a name?’ And then he started guessing and he said, ‘is it Nik?’ and I said ‘yeah, Nik Cruz.’ He was like, ‘I knew it!’ People knew this guy was crazy.”
Cruz, a former Douglas High student who was expelled, had been tipped off to the FBI for erratic behavior, according to Fox News. Soowal said that one look at his Instagram profile, which was filled with guns and violent quotes, should have been enough to raise concerns among authorities.
“When they released the deaths, I just lost it,” Baturin said. “I was sad, hurt and angry; I am really angry. I’m angry at our government for allowing these guns to be in hands of children, I’m angry at the FBI because they knew about him but did nothing, I’m angry at our administration because our parents and students complained about [Cruz] and told our cops and they also didn’t do anything.”
Although they weren’t directly involved, Baturin, Fernandez and Soowal did know some of the victims. Being such a small community, most of the victims were either acquaintances or friends’ cousins and relatives. Some of the victims they knew include Jamie Guttenberg, 14, Meadow Pollack, 18, and football coach Aaron Feiss, 39.
“It hurts my soul so much because, to see where those kids were lying dead –– I walked those halls,” Soowal said.“I know where those videos were taken, I know that the freshmen building has bad cell service. I’ve experienced the steps that they were taking. I can’t believe it all, it’s just so crazy.”
Moving forward, the students realize that there are going to be a lot of discussions opened up about gun control. Although each of them has a slightly different take on the issue, all of them agree that gun control laws should be stronger in order to prevent people like Cruz from acquiring fire weapons.
“Regardless of your points of view, we need change now,” Soowal said. “I’m not trying to discredit anyone or anyone’s arguments –– but no argument should be greater than a life that’s now lost.”
For Fernandez, who hopes to someday become a teacher, the argument is even bigger. She said that the events not only have changed her political perspectives but also pushed her to strive for more change, as she wants her future students to feel safe in school. As for their hometown, the three of them hope that Parkland will be remembered for its myriad of good things, like its community and its school districts, as opposed to just the shooting.
“I wanna say that we are a little city that makes a big impact on everything,” Fernandez said. “I really think that my city is gonna do that and we are gonna be the change because we are not gonna stop until something is done. This won’t bring us down.”
Alexandra Tirado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org