PARKLAND, Fla. — Alex Wind, a 17-year-old junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was in drama class when the fire alarm went off around 2:20 Wednesday afternoon. He was one of the first students out of the classroom, bursting into a hallway. In the distance, he watched as three security guards approached another campus building, looked inside and then turned around in horror.
“They looked right at me and said, ‘Go back! Go back! Go back!’ ” Wind recalls. “And that’s when we heard the first gunshots.”
After pushing his classmates back inside of the room, where all 60 of them huddled in a closet, Wind texted his parents. “I don’t know what is going on … I think there’s a shooter on campus … I love you guys.” Nikolas Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student, is accused of firing 160 rounds from an AR-15 inside the school building next door, killing 17 students and teachers. Shivering in fear, Wind and his classmates spent 90 minutes crouched in the closet.
The following afternoon, Wind met his best friend, Cameron Kasky, at what would become the first of many vigils for the slain. While Wind had been privately grieving with family, Kasky had been busy doing television interviews. The boys agreed, as they embraced each other, that something had to be done.
Wind, Kasky and a third friend, Sofie Whitney, soon launched “Never Again MSD,” which hopes to channel a fresh round of national outrage at gun violence into what has thus far been an unachievable campaign to make significant changes to the nation’s gun laws.
In just three days, the group’s leadership has grown to include more than 20 Douglas students, and its social media accounts have amassed tens of thousands of followers. The students have been the keynote speakers at several Florida rallies and a near-constant presence on cable news programs.
On Sunday, students from Never Again MSD appeared on each of the weekly talk shows to announce rallies in Washington and other major U.S. cities on March 24. The protests are being planned with help from groups including organizers of the Women’s March, and they quickly gained the public support of several prominent Democrats, gun-control groups and pop music superstar Justin Bieber.
The following Q&A with Wind, conducted Sunday afternoon as he prepared for yet another rally in Florida, has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Who is “Never Again MSD”? What’s the organizational structure?
Wind: We have a team, made up of … you know right now, we have a team that is growing so fast that I can’t even begin to describe how many people are in it. We started out as three, and now we’re upward of 20 in just a couple of days. Originally, it was just me and my best friend, Cameron Kasky, who has been in the news, and one of our friends (Sofie Whitney). And now we have people like Emma Gonzalez, who has been all over, and David Hogg, who has been all over, Delaney Tarr, who spoke at the rally at the courthouse. We have people that are recognizable people in the media, and we’re all hoping to become those recognizable figures and to make this change happen, but in order to start that, we needed to capture the faces of the movement. We have students. We have alumni. We have so many people here that just want to help.
And your message?
Wind: Too many politicians are taking money from the NRA. It’s not a political issue; it’s an issue of action. It’s not specifically about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about sending a message that if you receive money from the NRA, you will not be receiving a single vote from Parkland, Fla.
From the rally yesterday, to all of the social media attention, there seems to have been an outpouring of support …
Wind: It’s been absolutely incredible. You know, we’ve received so much help from adults, but ultimately this is about the students. Never again. Too many students are dying. Seventeen students from my high school passed away this past week, and that is 17 too many.
You all seem remarkably organized — which is even more noteworthy because, at the end of the day, you’re still a group of children who just went through something extremely traumatic. How are you doing?
Wind: You know, I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t cried. I’ve cried a lot. On Thursday, the day after the shooting, we had two vigils held, which were such powerful moments, to see so many people in Parkland come out and support, and now we’re grieving and we’re coping, but we’re doing it with our voices. This isn’t about politicians; this is about victims. We will not let those 17 people die in vain because, if nothing gets done, I am not going back to school, David Hogg will not be going back to school, Cameron Kasky will not be coming back to school, Emma Gonzalez will not be going back to school. None of us from the Never Again movement will be going back to school until legislation has been passed, and until changes have been made.
So you’re all committing that you’re not going to go back to your classrooms until something happens?
Wind: How are we supposed to feel safe again? What if this happens again? What if this happens in any other school? How are we supposed to know and feel safe in those exact hallways where the shooting happened if nothing changes? If these laws caused the shooting in the first place, what’s going to stop (another shooting) if the laws don’t change?
A lot has been made about you and your classmates being part of the “Post-Columbine” generation — young people who have grown up in an era where school shootings are a fact of American life. How do you think that factors in to how you all are responding to the shooting?
Wind: I wasn’t born before Columbine; I was born in 2001. But I was alive and old enough to understand what was going on during Sandy Hook. I was alive and knew what was happening when the Pulse shooting happened, when the concert in Las Vegas shooting happened. And enough is enough. It’s time to change. It’s time to take action.
We never thought … you know, we had gun drills. We had shooter drills. We were so prepared for this. And I never thought … I’ve lived in Parkland my entire life, and I never thought that my school in my city, that this could ever happen. Donald Trump, he keeps talking about inner-city shootings, inner-city gun violence — Parkland was voted the safest city in Florida last year. This is not an inner city. There’s no gang violence, there’s none of that. It’s an affluent community where everyone knows everyone. How could this happen here?
I’m sure that, a week ago, you could never have imagined that doing interviews like this would be how you’d spend your three-day weekend.
Wind: I mean, last week, me and Cameron were planning to see the movie “Black Panther,” and now we’re planning to go to Washington, D.C. I mean … it’s absolutely insane. I was worried about my grades on Wednesday, and now I’m worried about whether I’ll have enough time to call you! (Laughter) Who would have thought that us as high school students would be in contact with all of these amazing people. It’s so unfortunate that there were these circumstances because my school is amazing; we have award-winning arts programs, sports programs — the fact that we’re going to be remembered for this is sickening. And we knew, me and Cameron, on Thursday, the day after the shooting, we said something needs to happen; there needs to be a central space; there needs to be a movement. And now it’s time to turn to the March for Our Lives. And the march on March 24th is when everything culminates. We know it’s going to be the first march, but we know it won’t be the last march.
You mentioned to me that you and Cameron first discussed forming an activist organization when you saw each other at one of the vigils on Thursday. What had you been up to for the 24 hours between the shooting and then?
Wind: I was grieving. It was hard. I have two older brothers and my mom and dad, and I was spending most of the day with them. … You know, I had been contacted by people, but I was so angry, and I just wanted action. Cameron was giving all of these interviews, and I didn’t know how to do that. And I started getting contacted. I was contacted by KNX 1070 in Los Angeles, I was contacted by Patch.com’s website in Indianapolis, and I wanted change to happen. And now I’ve been on CNN, I’ve been on Fox and all of these networks announcing this march, and I’ll never be more proud.
Right now, there are more big announcements to come … March 24th, that’s the time for action.
We’ve seen these tragedies before. Columbine. Sandy Hook. What’s different this time?
Wind: Columbine was the first one, and people said, “It’s okay; it’s never going to happen again.” It happened again. Newtown, the kids were so young … they couldn’t speak out. We are different.
Now the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was someone with a documented history — both disciplinarily at school as well as having had contacts with law enforcement. What do you think of the fact that he was still able to get a gun?
Wind: It baffles me. It’s insane that he was able to purchase an AR-15, a weapon of war, however he’s not able to purchase alcohol legally. And you know, about the FBI, our justice system failed us. And I don’t think that’s something that I’ll ever forget. Because I was a firm believer in the justice system before this, and I will never forget how the FBI let down my entire community — all 3,500 students at Stoneman Douglas and all 17 that passed away, none of us will ever forgive the FBI.
Did you know Cruz?
You never met him?
Wind: No, and I never wanted to. I’d seen him in the halls once or twice, and it was very obvious to tell something was up with the kid.
To be honest, we’ve heard “never again” before. What would you say to people who are skeptical that anything will change? People sometimes are fatalistic about the prospect of changing gun laws. What do you say to those people?
Wind: March 24th. That’s all I have to say to those people. March 24th and the march on Washington. We are going to make a change.