Toward the end of the afternoon, one of the most anticipated speakers of the day took the stage: Emma González.
González, 18, has become the face of the student anti-gun-violence movement that has emerged from the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
She gained prominence after a passionate speech in front of the Broward County Courthouse in which she criticized President Trump and other politicians for accepting donations from the National Rifle Association.
On Saturday, she took the stage, a defiant look on her face.
“Six minutes and about 20 seconds,” she said. “In little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, and 15 were injured, and everyone — absolutely everyone in the Douglas community — was forever altered.”
“Everyone who was there understands. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands. For us, long, tearful, chaotic hours in scorching afternoon sun were spent not knowing. No one understood the extent of what had happened. No one could believe that there were bodies in that building waiting to be identified for over a day. No one knew that the people who were missing had stopped breathing long before any of us had even known that a Code Red had been called.”
“No one could comprehend the devastating aftermath or how far this would reach or where this would go. For those who still can’t comprehend because they refuse to, I’ll tell you where it went: right into the ground, six feet deep. Six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15 and my friend Carmen would never complain to me again about piano practice.”
González then named all of her slain classmates, reminding the crowd of the “nevers” they did not live to do. The basketball games, the “hellos” in the school hallways. She wiped tears from her eyes.
Then she demonstrated the power of silence. Staring into the crowd, she stood and said nothing.
The crowd, uncertain of what to do, hesitantly cheered and shouted.
Emma stood silent.
Applause broke out. People in the crowd wiped tears from their eyes.
Emma closed her eyes and clutched the sheets of paper in her hands.
Shouts of “Never again, never again.”
Tears slowly steamed down her face, but she stood determined.
“We’re with you, Emma,” someone shouted. “We love you.”
Then came the slow beeping of a timer.
“Since the time that I came out here, it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds,” she said, quietly. “The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before his arrest.”
“Fight for your life before it’s someone else’s job.”