Robyn Clarke, Staff Writer

February 14th, 2018 began as any Valentine’s Day does. Cards were written, chocolate was eaten, and gifts were exchanged. But for students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a day supposed to be about love turned into a horrific nightmare.

Around three PM, gunshots rang out in the school’s freshman building. Fear and confusion overtook everyone as bullets shattered glass. Rebecca Bogart slipped under her teacher’s desk in an attempt to stay safe. “We all took cover and hid,” she told the Miami Herald. “We were just trying to stay calm. Everyone tried to stay quiet.”

Further chaos ensued when the fire alarm sounded, sending everyone directly into the shooter’s path. Though it is unclear why the alarm went off, Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie believes it was triggered by smoke from the shooter’s weapon. One administrator realized what was going on and sent everyone back into classrooms, where many stayed on lockdown for hours.

Freshman Sarah Crescitelli, who locked herself in a book closet with a group of other students, composed a text to her parents: If I don’t make it I love you and appreciate everything you ever did for me. People were trying to comfort each other, saying we are going to get out of here, that we were going to be all right,” she later told the Miami Herald.* “I’m shocked. I never thought that could happen.”

But the unthinkable had happened, and later in the evening, details began to emerge. The shooter was identified as nineteen year old Nikolas Cruz, a former MSD student. He had lost his mother in November and had been taken in by the Snead family. In an interview with Good Morning America’s Michael Strehand, the couple described what living with him was like.

“[He was] nothing like they portray him on television or in the media,” Kimberly Snead said. James Snead agreed, saying, “We had rules, and he followed every rule to a T.”

According to the Sneads, nothing about February 14th had been abnormal, other than that Cruz hadn’t gone to school. But even that wasn’t out of the ordinary for him. “He said he didn’t go to school on Valentine’s Day,” James explained.

They didn’t realize he was involved with the shooting until the local SWAT team called James to ask if he knew where Nikolas was. He didn’t, and once a description of the shooter had been released, James and his son quickly figured out their houseguest was responsible. “At that point, I was panic stricken for [my wife’s] safety, so I called the SWAT officer back to get the police back to my home to check on her,” James said of the moments right after he realized what Cruz had done.

The Sneads saw Cruz at the police station later that afternoon, where Kimberly struggled to hide her emotions. “I was just devastated and heartbroken… I still can’t process what he’s done because this wasn’t the person that we knew,” she explained. As he walked by them, he mumbled something. It took Kimberly a moment to realize what he’d said: “I’m sorry.”

His apology wouldn’t heal the damage he had done or bring back those who had lost their lives. Around 6:30 that night, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced that fifteen people had been injured and seventeen had been killed. Among the victims was assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who died shielding students from incoming bullets. Sheriff Israel, whose two sons played for Feis, said the kids in Parkland loved him. “…They adored him,” he told the Miami Herald. “He was a phenomenal man.” Senior defensive lineman Will Pringle called Feis “the most selfless and caring man I met”, writing on social media, “… [Y]ou’re a true hero and I love you from the bottom of my heart.”

Seventeen year old Joaquin Oliver, an avid Miami Heat fan, was also killed. In addition to his love for sports, Oliver was close to his family and proud of his Venezuelan heritage. His social media is full of pictures of his mother, and he protested against Venezuelan president Nikolas Maduro. Someone on social media wrote to Oliver online, “This does not seem real. I am mystified. I know you will be taking care of us… I love you.”

Though what the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas experienced was horrific and tragic, they are refusing to let it define them. In the days since the shooting, many have spoken out about the need for stricter gun laws. “[I]t should not be easier to purchase a gun than it is to obtain a driver’s license,” eighteen year old Emma Gonzalez wrote in an essay for Harper’s Bazaar. “At the end of the day, we don’t want people to have their guns taken away. We just want the people to be more responsible. We want civilians to have to go through more rolls of red tape to get what they want…”

Later in the essay, Gonzalez wrote, “We just want to go back to school.” The line is a reminder that while Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have been thrust into the national spotlight, they’re still kids. They’re kids who went through a horrific tragedy, but are using the experience to make a change the world for the better.


Quotes taken from the following articles:


  • “Stoneman Douglas Football Coach ‘Died A Hero’ Protecting Students During Shooting


  • “Joaquin ‘Guac’ Oliver, Killed in Parkland, Loved His Family (And Soccer, Too)”


  • “Parkland Student Emma González Opens Up About Her Fight for Gun Control”