Rebecca is a junior from Armonk, New York majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society, and minoring in Biology. She is on the pre-veterinary track, and is very passionate about her love for animals. Her political interests include social justice topics and environmentalism. Outside of VPR, she is a member of TAP, where she tutors children from North Nashville. She enjoys the outdoors, hiking, swimming, and scuba diving.
Almost 10 months ago at 2:21 pm, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and opened fire for six minutes. In those six minutes, 17 students and staff members were killed, 17 were injured, and the lives of thousands had been forever changed.
As school shootings have become increasingly prevalent, it is hard not to wonder if this could happen at your own school. You think about the security that your school has put in place and wonder if it would be enough to stop someone like Nikolas Cruz. But even if you come to the realization that it probably would not be enough, you cannot imagine it actually happening.
Abby Brafman, a sophomore at Vanderbilt and a 2017 Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate, was one of those students. When she first heard about the shooting, she simply could not believe it. As she knew some of the victims from the shooting, she initially spent time grieving. However, shortly after it happened, she knew that she could not sit around and do nothing. So, she organized the March for Our Lives in Nashville. In describing the aftermath of the shooting, Abby separated it into two periods: pre-March and post-March. Pre-March, although painful and raw, was inspiring. People were vocal, motivated, and determined to put a stop to the mass shooting epidemic that exists in our culture. There were memorial ceremonies, statues of 17 angels put in place at a park in town, and other actions that reflected Parkland’s grieving and reflection.
When planning the march, someone once asked Abby, “What’s the point? What goal are you fighting for?” She realized then that she did not really expect laws to instantly change, but rather hoped for there to be a cultural shift in terms of talking about it. She commented, “With the gun laws that haven’t changed, some people look at that as a reflection of the fact that the March did not matter. But I think that laws are a reflection of the culture. We have to fix ourselves before we can fix a stupid piece of paper.”
Post-March was much different. By not dealing with any of her emotions while planning it, Abby’s feelings were delayed and appeared in the form of survivor’s guilt. In addition, it felt like there was not much left to do, and now the town was trying to move on. Abby spent the summer in Parkland, where it felt like it was impossible to get away from what happened. There were “MSD Strong” stickers and t-shirts everywhere, making being in Parkland a constant reminder of the horrors that occurred.
Attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is also completely different now. By speaking to friends from home that have siblings that still attend Parkland, Abby is up to date on the new culture. There is an underlying tension about who has the right to be most upset. Divided into levels, Abby described what she has heard about and said, “You’re allowed to be level A upset if you were at school that day. B if you were in the building. C if you were on the floor. And you get to be on an entirely different level if you lost a sibling. Your emotional outlet is based on where you were that day. People want the most sympathy and if you’re more upset, you get more of that attention.” However, Abby points out the flaw in this and asserts, “Anyone that went to Parkland should be upset. In fact, anyone that attends school anywhere has the right to be upset.”
In addition, there is a huge surge in the amount of students that attend therapy. As Abby’s parents are psychiatrists and psychologists, they noticed that their practices and those of their friends are now booked for months as a result of it. Although the school provides it, many of the students feel that school psychologists are not equipped to deal with something like this. PTSD is prevalent, and students are easily triggered. The building where the shooting occurred is still standing because it cannot be knocked down until the entire trial is over, which could be in years. The building is both a gravesite and a looming reminder of what happened on February 14th, 2018, making it impossible to escape and move on.
Parkland, a town that once was just known as a nice area in southern Florida, will be forever known as the town where a school shooting occurred, just like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and everywhere else that has experienced this nightmare. For Abby, putting on her high school sweatshirt is no longer just a piece of clothing, but an artifact that attracts second glances from people that she has never met before. She even wonders if when she applies for jobs, employers will give her a call just because they are curious when they see the name of her high school on her resume. Her hometown is no longer just her hometown, but a reminder of the horrors that her friends and family have gone through, and are still going through.
Image credit: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MarjoryStonemanDouglasHS_22Jun2008_(cropped).jpg