One student spoke of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and mentioned a deceased classmate who was used as cover. A librarian said students kept quiet in a room, only to learn later what had happened in the Parkland, Fla., school. On Thursday, they gathered to discuss gun violence, weeks after a deadly shooting rampage at their school and just days before a planned march in Washington.
The voices from Parkland came at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which was also attended by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Their remarks came two days before the March for Our Lives, which is expected to draw thousands to the District to protest gun violence.
“A lot of people feel like this is the end, and the march is just — that’s going to be it. The march is just the start,” Aalayah Eastmond, a student at Stoneman Douglas, said. “We will fight for this until change happens. If you guys don’t want to hear about it anymore, you fix it, so we don’t have to keep repeating ourselves.”
Last month’s mass shooting left 17 people dead. Afterward, students at schools across the country walked out of class to protest gun violence and call for stronger gun control. Some students, including Parkland survivors, have emerged as vocal advocates for change and safer schools.
Feinstein said she thought the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado would be the last school shooting. Years later came the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, she said, recalling the faces of the children. Schools are no longer safe places, the senator said.
“And so we have students here, saying if you can’t do it, we’re going to do it, but we’re not going to tolerate it anymore,” she said. “Ladies and gentlemen, this can be done.”
Blumenthal said a new social movement had coalesced, one fueled by young people.
“That has always been the way change — particularly revolutionary change — has been accomplished in this country,” Blumenthal said.
The news conference was attended by Eastmond; another Stoneman Douglas student, David Hogg; and Diana Haneski, a school librarian. Hogg said he spent time this week at a high school in Washington and spoke with others who had been affected by gun violence.
“Regardless of your race, regardless of your religion, regardless of where you come from, we are all human,” he said. “We bleed the same blood, and we all suffer the same.”
Haneski said she did as she was trained when the school went on lockdown Feb. 14: She called students in. She locked students and co-workers in a backroom. The group remained quiet. Later, they discovered the “horrible, horrible things that happened,” she said.
“If today was like any other Thursday, I’d be back in the library helping students, helping them learn,” Haneski said. “And I can’t be silent when there are solutions right in front of us that can prevent the horrific daily toll of gun violence on our country.”
Eastmond also recalled the day of the shooting: “No student should have to cover themselves with a deceased classmate to survive. But I was that student.”
The focus, she said, should not be on school shootings alone. Eastmond said her uncle was killed years ago, a victim of gun violence.
“And nothing has changed. Columbine happened. Nothing’s changed. Sandy Hook happened. Nothing’s changed,” she said. “Parkland happened. Nothing’s changed.”