This post is also published in Florida Politics and South Florida Sun Sentinel.
I am 18 years old and, until January, I was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. I was there on Feb. 14, 2018 — Valentine’s Day — when a former student killed 17 of my schoolmates.
In fact, some of the people he shot were in the classroom right next to mine.
People wonder what it’s like to go through such a horrific event and how it affects you both short term and further on.
In my case, the shooting left me in shock.
At first, I remembered nothing of the actual events. I was consumed by checking with others at the school about the kids and teachers and who had made it out and who hadn’t. We weren’t being given names at first and that was agonizing.
It was only after days that I remembered having to step over bodies to get out of the school. I also recalled passing by a stairwell and ducking into my Spanish class just seconds before the shooting started.
Given how police later traced the shooter’s movements, he may have been in that stairwell as I passed.
If I had arrived at the classroom even seconds later, I might have been the first one shot. I think about that a lot.
I was also extremely worried about one of my coaches because he had walked by me just before I entered the classroom. I later found out he was all right, but two other coaches had been killed.
What I went through left me badly shaken and, at first, not knowing who I was.
I didn’t know how to cope, how to grieve, how to move forward. I have been in therapy and it has taken time to find the skills to deal with what I lived through.
We went back to school two weeks after the shooting and those first days were difficult. Fire alarms kept going off; we assumed someone was pulling the alarms as a prank, but they were terrifying.
One day, someone was hammering a nail into a wall and that sounded just like gunshots to me.
Also, almost every day unknown people were writing posts on social media threatening to come back to Parkland and do it again. I’d wake up in the morning and find messages from friends: “Have you seen social media this morning!”
Twelve days after the shooting — before returning to classes — I was in Tallahassee testifying before members of the Florida Legislature.
I told them: “A person my age shouldn’t have to see what I saw.”
They were considering legislation to increase funding for mental health and to improve the communication between education officials and law enforcement to strengthen schools and I approved of all that. But I testified to the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee against the arming of teachers.
I think that is a terrible idea. I picture another shooter entering a school and when the police arrive, they find numerous people with guns. How do they know who is the killer? How do they know who to shoot? Do teachers end up dead?
If you’ve been through what I’ve been through, that’s what you imagine.
In January, I transferred to a private school. I decided I would never feel safe in a school where teachers carry guns.
At my new school, you enter by scanning your ID, which is associated with your fingerprint. The school also has facial recognition technology that does a background check immediately on any visitors to the campus and notifies the school administration.
Public schools don’t have that technology, presumably because they won’t spend the money.
What gets me about our society is that cars are much more regulated than guns. I need to register my car and buy insurance for it. I also need to pass written and driving tests to get my license, which takes time to schedule and do. No such process exists for guns.
To me, that’s crazy and incredibly irresponsible of our lawmakers.
Meanwhile, the killings continue. Look at El Paso and Dayton this past weekend. The “Never Again” movement goes on and on.
I’m planning to go to college and a major criterion for me is the safety of the campus. Most kids don’t think that way, but that is a major selling point for me, and also a long-term effect of what I lived through.
Another long-term effect is this: Feb. 14 will never be just Valentine’s Day for me ever again.
Annabel Claprood is a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and a high school senior.