On Valentine’s Day last week, A lone gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 and injuring at least 14 more. Terrified and weeping parents waited outside the school to see if their child would be coming home that day. Ash Wednesday markings began to fade away from the sweat and tears that were sustained by the terror filling the community. As students were evacuated out of the building with their hands up, there was no telling who was safe and who was gone forever. Communication between parents and their children was lost in the hysteria. Families pleaded through social media to help them find their loved ones, but those 17 victims wouldn’t be coming home.
“It’s catastrophic. There really are no words,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel according to a tweet from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
When news about the shooting reached Samford’s campus, students like sophomore biology and environmental science major Maya Quinn, reflected on the events.
“Everyday it seems as if peace is further and further away, but I hope and hold onto faith that there are individuals ready to bring it forward for us. I send nothing but strength and love for those who lost precious friends and family in the Florida shooting and call anyone to action who is available for support and assistance for them as well. Our nation has bled too often at the hands of its own,” said Quinn.
The Douglas shooting marks the 18th gun related incident, according to disputed reports, on an American school campus this year. The shooter, identified by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office as Nikolas Cruz, 19, was a former student at the school who had been previously expelled for disciplinary reasons. According to court documents available online, Cruz allegedly arrived at the school in a gold Uber. An employee at the school recognized Cruz walking purposely toward the building and radioed the information to others. Armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, according to reports, Cruz allegedly began firing outside the school before entering the building within a minute of arriving. The campus went into “Code Red,” indicating an emergency.
After the shooting, Cruz dropped the guns and magazines and left the school with other fleeing students. In addition to being identified by witnesses, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was able to track the gun back to Cruz, according to arrest records. He was captured alive nearly an hour later off campus.
Videos shared by students on social media captured images of people shot down, the sound of blaring gunshots and the screams of students and teachers in the background. According to student statements made to the media, Cruz was known at the school as being unusual and as a person to avoid. Students claimed they used to joke about Cruz being the one who would come back and “shoot up the school.”
Beam Furr, the mayor of Broward County, said Cruz had been to a mental health clinic and was receiving care but recently stopped going.
The Florida Department of Children and Families, confirmed Furr’s statement. According to reports from the Broward County Sheriff’s office shared with NBC News, Cruz’s social media profiles revealed disturbing information about him. Pictures on his Instagram page showed animals he had killed and weapons he possessed.
A tipster reported Cruz to the FBI in January about his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” according to an FBI statement. Despite being treated for mental health issues and being on the radar of school administration and authorities, Cruz was able to legally purchase the assault rifle he used to carry out the massacre in Florida.
As gun violence becomes more common on school campuses, the divide among Americans and the topic of gun control continues to grow — including on Samford’s campus.
“The phrases I keep hearing most often in the wake of every shooting in this country are, ‘guns aren’t the problem, people are,’ and ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.’ Well, people with guns seem to be doing quite a bit of damage and that damage has only gotten worse since Sandy Hook,” sophomore political science and English major Jillian Fantin said. “If people are the problem, why allow them access to a weapon that has proven its capabilities time and time again? Gun licensing laws, background checks, and evaluations of what sorts of guns are on the market and available to the consumer are necessary steps that need to be taken to protect lives.”
Mental health is often cited as the biggest issue when mass shootings are committed. Lawmakers and citizens have continually called for stricter background checks and reviews of individual’s mental health.
“I don’t think guns are the problem, it’s the people,” freshman nursing major Chastity Finnegan said.
Following the events, President Donald Trump tweeted, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
Over the past five years, there have been 290 school shootings in the United States, according to Everytown Research. These statistics include suicides and any time a gun was fired on a campus without anyone being injured. Modern school mass shootings in the United States became the center of public attention following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and one teacher. Following the investigation, the FBI concluded that a variety of factors pushed Harris and Klebold to commit this massacre, including bullying, depression, goth culture and music. Further gun control measures and security practices went into place following the events, but the spike in school shootings continued to rise.
In 2005, America saw another mass shooting in a school when 16-year-old Jeffrey Weise killed 11 people, including himself, in Red Lakes, Minnesota. Police cited depression and bullying as the motives in his killings. Less than two years later, one of the worst school shootings in history occurred at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 people, including himself, using two semi-automatic handguns. Cho had previously been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder. In December 2005, a Virginia Judge said that Cho was “an imminent danger to himself because of mental illness” and that he needed to receive mental health care. Due to Virginia’s gun laws at the time, Cho was able to purchase a gun because he was never involuntarily admitted to a mental institution. The shootings prompted further amendments to U.S. gun policies, including strengthening of the National Instant Criminal Background Check.
Despite the changes, the trend of school shootings and gun violence continued to grow. In 2012, Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and seven adults using an assault rifle and pistol at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This mass shooting caused paranoia in the country as schools bumped up security and were on high alert. Police cited that Lanza had severe mental health issues and stole his mother’s weapons to commit the massacre.
An increasing number of students, including Fantin, believe words must be met with action.
“Thoughts and prayers aren’t going to bring back victims or prevent more shootings. They are empty at this point when not coupled with action, and an easy way to slip from empathy and responsibility. Passivity towards gun violence is absolutely killing more people in this country, and making mass shootings a regular part of being an American,” Fantin said.
Throughout the United States, the increase in school shootings has prompted lockdown drills and even active shooter drills in some districts. These drills are intended to prepare students for the worst-case scenario. Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas reportedly had these types of drills, but said nothing can adequately prepare students once someone brings in a heavy weapon and begins shooting.
Daniel Dodson, News Writer