ERIC BAZAIL EIMIL: Today, February 14th, marks the third anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
It will be three years since a gunman stormed the 1200 Building, home to many first-year classes, and opened fire, killing seventeen people, including students, faculty, and staff members. Three years since Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Christ Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, and Peter Wang lost their lives.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Shooting, often referred to as the “Parkland Shooting”, took place three years ago, but South Florida is still in shock.
The shooter’s death penalty trial in limbo as a result of the pandemic.
Governor Ron DeSantis Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. DeSantis replaced him with a then-Sergeant in the Coral Springs Police Department, Gregory Tony, after reports emerged that the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) botched the response to the shooting. Israel ran for his old job this past August, reopening the wounds of the shooting as the community litigated his conduct as leader of the BSO once again.
Several votes, ultimately unsuccessful, occurred to Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools Robert Runcie over his handling of school safety issues and general response to the shooting. The School Board has struggled to respond in the wake of the shooting.
A statewide grand jury empaneled by Governor DeSantis has churned out report after report detailing how Florida’s mental health system and the safety of schools were continually deprioritized and needed significant overhauls. Investigations by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, which a Pulitzer in 2019 for its investigative journalism, revealed major lapses in school security and the broader system of responding to student code of conduct violations in Broward County public schools.
Time and time again, gun control legislation has largely in the Florida Legislature, preserving the likelihood of another Parkland shooting, another catastrophic loss of life, another community struck by grief. Meanwhile, the Legislature authorized provisions to teachers. This failure has only exacerbated the struggle of healing. As the Sun Sentinel’s editorial board , “a deep-seated fear about school and gun safety, not the light we shine, is what keeps our community from healing.”
And of course, in recent weeks, reports that conspiracy theorist and QAnon enthusiast Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene had previously made claims that the shooting was a false flag only added salt to the wound.
Our community has seen little accountability, little change, and little more than performative words from our leaders. And all of us in South Florida, in differing ways, have been shaped by that.
I’m fortunate. I wasn’t there. I don’t live with the actual PTSD of the shooting, with the trauma that returns at every holiday with fireworks and loud explosions, with the grief of having lost someone I knew personally. I was ten minutes away when the shooting happened at another school, and it was dismissal time when the shooting started, meaning we had no idea what was even coming. I went home on the school bus blissfully unaware of exactly what happened. I had received the notification from NBC 6 South Florida on my phone during ninth-hour calculus class that shots were reported, but who could have imagined that as we filled out those worksheets in calculus preparing for the next quiz, seventeen people were dying.
The aftermath and the shock our community experienced, however, affected each of us.
On February 15th, 2018, I found myself driving to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport to board an early morning flight to Washington, D.C. I was going to attend the NAIMUN conference that Georgetown’s International Relations Association hosts each year for the very first time. But unlike other times I had traveled with my high school Model UN team, there was no joy or excitement in my heart. Much of that morning is a blur.
I remember from that morning listening to the Paul Castronovo Show on FM 105.9 as I drove east to the airport, the sunset gleaming into the car as it went down I-595. I remember hearing caller after caller talk about their reactions to the shooting, the grief, tears and emotion as members of the community processed over the phone the horrors that had happened. I remember barely being able to restrain my tears as one caller described the sacrifice of Aaron Feis, Stoneman Douglas’s Assistant Football Coach. He threw himself between students and the shooter, serving as a human shield in a final act of courage and sacrifice and devotion to his alma mater. I remember seeing my community on every single television screen in the Washington Hilton the weekend of the NAIMUN conference, news crews covering every moment as Parkland and South Florida grieved the loss of innocent life, as details of the shooter’s life became public and dissectible information, and as details of how the shooter fell through the cracks of our education and justice system came to light.
I am haunted by the image that showed up across the world, on every front page, on every news broadcast, that image of a mother with Ash Wednesday ashes on her forehead bawling as she’s holding another mother. Both waiting for news, both praying for the best and fearing the worst. I remember the worry I felt as my younger brother returned to school the day after the shooting, terrified that copycats would attempt something at his school. I remember returning to school after the conference. I remember the massively beefed up security and the announcement that clear backpacks would soon be required at school. I remember the situational awareness assembly the school held shortly after so that we could remain alert in case anything were to happen. I remember the walkouts to stand up for our lives and demand gun control. I remember the silence and incompetence of the White House, the Republican-led Congress, the Florida Legislature, and our then-Governor, Rick Scott.
When I walk into any new building, I immediately scope out exits, hiding places, and items that could be used for defensive purposes. I work through scenarios in my head of how to get cover and protect myself and those I am with. Lockdowns, drills or not, have filled me with terror for years after. Even at Georgetown, every time I entered a classroom, I would glance at the active shooter response sheet that was posted near the doors and would scope out furniture suitable for barricading the doors, areas clear of windows and the best escape routes.
“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” -Joan Didion
2:21 PM on February 14th, 2018. Shots fired in the 12 building. Code Red lockdown.
South Florida has been forever changed in the wake of that instant. We can never forget. We can heal. We can move forward. But we can never, and we must never, forget. We can never go back to the times before the instant. We must live in the wake of it. And every time truthers come around, the healing process only becomes harder.
Today, remember Parkland. Remember what South Florida mourns. And reject the horrid truther rhetoric that diminishes what our community experienced.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a second-year student in the School of Foreign Service studying Latin America and Africa as a Regional and Comparative Studies major. A native South Floridian and a proud Cuban-American, Eric’s column “The Florida Project” appears biweekly in “On the Record.”
Originally published at https://ontherecordgu.com on February 14, 2021.