End School Shootings with Real Solutions

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior, Richard Doan, Shares His Account of the Horrific Parkland Tragedy and Demands Action to Keep Schools Safe

By: Richard Doan

Everybody looks forward to senior year. After three years of high school (some after just one or two), many people can’t wait to leave and head off to college. Personally, I was looking forward to prom, graduation and infamous senior year shenanigans. I had hopes and dreams of attending a university and embarking on a future career in finance. Preparing for graduation and college was all that was important to me, but within a matter of minutes, all of those beloved goals and aspirations vanished.

It was Valentine’s Day. It was supposed to be a day of love and joy, and for most of the day, it was. Up until 2:20 p.m., when the fire alarm went off.

I was in the newspaper room when it all happened. We followed the traditional protocol and walked to our designated evacuation zones. We were on our way downstairs when I saw kids running back inside. Teachers yelled at us to run as well. I ran as directed, but in the back of my mind, I thought it was just a drill. Ever since the school board has implemented stricter safety policies this year, there was a rumor going around that we’d have an active shooter drill on campus. For many of us, that’s what we thought it was. The teachers said it was a code red, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t all a drill.

We rushed back to the newspaper room, shut the lights off, and huddled into the corner of the classroom. I heard sirens wailing and choppers echoing in the distance. Soon enough, we saw a tweet from the Coral Springs PD to stay away from Stoneman Douglas. That was when we realized it was not a drill. It was real.

Eventually, we transitioned to the classroom closet where we stayed for about an hour and a half. We were scared. We were worried. We were in disbelief. We followed the news as it unraveled online. We watched live streams and kept a close eye on Twitter. It was hot and cramped in the closet, but none of that mattered in this life-or-death situation.

We hear voices in the hallway. “Police reporting,” they said. It was multiple voices. Then with a faint rattling of what I presumed to be keys, our classroom door was opened. I recall someone asked if anyone was there. We didn’t move. We didn’t know who it was. It could’ve been the shooter for all we knew, but my teacher’s intuition told her otherwise. She opened the closet door to the three men in our room. At that moment, I didn’t know if I was going to be shot or be saved. Thankfully, it was a rescue mission.

They were SWAT — heavily armed and heavily protected. Their flashlights shone upon our faces, and we were ordered to step out with our hands up. The SWAT team then secured our room and the building. Eventually, they escorted a large number of students and faculty from neighboring classrooms to our room. One hundred sixty-seven students and teachers in total gathered in this one room.

Later, we were moved to the media center where we sat and were given directions about evacuation for a few minutes. Then with our hands up and tears streaking down our face, we fled the building and exited the school. I saw papers scattered all over the floor along with Valentine’s Day flowers and stuffed animals. When we stepped out, our eyes met a sea of law enforcement, ambulances and media surrounding our school. I was in utter shock. This is my school. This all happened here.

Initially, I was in complete disbelief. I didn’t process it all yet. I am probably still processing it. This is my hometown: Parkland, Florida. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is my school. This is supposed to be a safe place. Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas. This is the stuff we hear on the news, but no one ever thought it could happen here. If a mass shooting like this can happen here, it can happen absolutely anywhere.

I am frustrated. There were signs. As with any mass shootings or suicide, there were signs. Yet they were overlooked, and because of that, 17 beautiful and innocent lives were taken away too soon.

As for my mom, she’s been through the Vietnam War as a young child, yet she says that nothing compares to what she felt this past Wednesday. It may sound cliché, but this truly was a parent’s worst nightmare. There is no greater fear than not knowing whether your children are safe, whether they will make it out alive, whether you’ll ever be able to tell your child that you love them again.

In all the chaos, I forgot to return my mother’s messages for an hour. She tells me that was the worst hour of her life as she feared for her boy, not knowing if she would ever see me again.

We are taking our time to grieve and to pray. People from around the world send their thoughts and prayers to us, and for that, we are truly appreciative. But frankly, thoughts and prayers themselves don’t do much. We must turn our thoughts and prayers into action. Our community feels distraught yet invigorated. The media is here. The whole world is watching, and this is our chance to be heard and make a difference. That way, something like this will not happen anywhere else.

No one deserves to feel the torment that we are experiencing right now. No one deserves to lose a loved one this way, and we are taking steps to ensure that this never happens again.

Mass shootings in America aren’t anything new. Gun violence isn’t something rare, but it definitely cannot be something we get used to. Here in Parkland, we are turning our mess into a message and our pain into power.

We are the voices for change. This is our moment to be heard. The media is here now, and they’ll probably be here for the next few days or weeks. But after that, they’ll be gone, and our story will probably just become a passing memory.

So the time to act is now. My classmates and I are just children. The people in D.C. are the adults, and they must step up and do their jobs – protect and preserve this nation that we all hold so dear. Let our voices reach the legislative offices up in D.C. and get our congressmen and women to act.

My friends are dead. Children are dead. Blood is spilled on the floor of our classrooms. We must do everything we can to ensure that Marjory Stoneman Douglas is the last school to suffer from a mass shooting.

This isn’t an issue of red vs. blue. This is an issue about life and human suffering. It is rather a moral issue that can be solved through political action. Legislators and the people in office must do all they can to preserve life and protect the people of this nation.

Immigration and economic policy are important issues in today’s world, but they dwindle in importance when it comes to the loss of innocent lives. Our representatives in office must learn to move past their differences to unite for the common cause of the people.

My friends and I have started the #NeverAgain movement to ensure that nowhere else has to endure a tragedy like this, that nowhere else do people have to suffer the pain that we feel. Unfortunately, however, our cause has quickly been twisted into a partisan debate.

Far-right conservatives argue that we students are in fact not students, but crisis actors, travelling to scenes of tragedies to push some liberal anti-gun agenda. We wish we are acting. We wish this is all a hoax. We wish these deep emotions of misery, anger and frustration aren’t real. But it’s not. We are students. This is real and we demand action.

We created our movement simply to bring awareness to gun control in our nation. After eight school shootings since the start of this year, I believe gun reform of any sort is something the United States severely needs. I believe in baby steps. Gun reform is not something that will happen overnight. It can take months, perhaps even years for major legislative change. But we’ll take each victory as they come, whether it be the outlaw of bump stocks, the increase of the legal age to purchase a firearm or the limitation of magazine sizes. I consider any progress with regards to gun reform a win.

What this nation needs is not a heated political argument, but a respectful discussion about guns and mental health. Each side needs to be willing to hear and listen to the opinions of the other side.

Through bipartisanship and working across the political aisle, I believe it can happen. I believe in compromise. Practically everyone recognizes that there is a need for change. Though people have their own views on how to enact such change, there is nothing wrong with a difference of opinions. Such divergence can in fact foster intelligent discussion and the exploration of all possible options, but we must let all viewpoints be heard and acknowledged.

I believe most feel we need to pass some common-sense gun laws. I believe we can agree that we must keep guns out of the hands of those who show signs of malicious intent. I believe we can agree upon widening the information stored in background check databases and increasing restrictions on the acquisition of firearms for the mentally ill. From there, we’ll work upwards to ensure the safety of our nation’s children without sacrificing the liberties the foundation of America grants us.

Change is new and change can be daunting. Not all changes work but doing nothing isn’t going to solve anything. Let us set aside our political differences to work together. Let us initiate change for the common cause of the preservation of life. Let us use our hindsight as foresight and shape our way to a better future.

It didn’t happen after Columbine in 1999, but it will happen now, and the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas will be the ones behind it. It is all to save a life – maybe even 17, hopefully more.