Six weeks after students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School experienced a shooting rampage that left 17 dead, marches occurred around the world to remember the victims and spark a change.
The massacre impacted people from every corner of the nation, but none more than students and teachers who every day walk through hallways, sit in classrooms and hope that the next tragedy isn’t at their school.
In Parkland, Douglas students, alumni and parents spoke to their neighbors, friends and family in the audience.
Speeches from Stoneman Douglas survivors and parents who lost their children during the shooting echoed through Pine Trails Park. The words were different but the messages were about the same thing: change.
Sari Kauffman, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas, demanded that the audience stay involved in politics and vote.
“Don’t just go vote,” she said. “Get 17 other people to go and vote for all the victims that can’t.”
Tony Montalto lost his daughter, Gina, in the shooting. He encouraged politicians from both parties to compromise.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” he said during his speech. “Compromise is the way the world works.”
The small-town feeling was still present even with a crowd in the tens of thousands. The crowd was diverse, with residents of all ages, races and professions from Broward County gathering to support the movement.
Anna Taylor, a kindergarten teacher at Riverglades Elementary School in Parkland, said that although her students are too young to fully comprehend the shooting, their teachers are still struggling.
“Some of us don’t sleep because of nightmares,” Taylor said. “Since the shooting, I think about having to sacrifice my life at school.”
Lucas Hameister, who teaches fourth grade at Margate Elementary School, said the levels of stress in the classroom have risen.
The day after the shooting, we went to recess and I thought to myself, a shooter doesn’t even need to enter the school,” he said. “We are out in the open right now.”
His mother, Jan Hameister, is a retired principal who now works part-time at the school. They both said schools need better protection.
“We both notice it,” she said. “We need to keep going for more change.”
Students from around the county are also noticing the changes. Kayla Salsburg, a student at North Broward Preparatory School, said her boyfriend was in class at Stoneman Douglas during the shooting.
“School is different for us now; it is not fun anymore,” Salsburg said.
Sophia Labow, who also attends North Broward Preparatory, said he feels perpetually at risk.
“I feel like every time I go to school I have to plan for a shooter,” he said.
Cypress Bay High School junior Lauren Nau said this is a chance to support other students and start a change.
Nau, the secretary of her student government association, said her school has organized events for students to empower them. They made memorials for the 17 victims and also held a voters’ registration day.
The marchers chanted as students and organizers led them toward Stoneman Douglas. As they passed the school, they were told to stay silent out of respect for the victims but also to keep their feet moving, symbolizing the students’ unwillingness to stop pushing for change.