“What happened on February 14, 2018 shattered my heart into countless pieces, but I vow to take each and every one of those pieces and to do some good. To fight the good fight with you all.”
It’s still surreal. Those were some of the words I spoke in my hometown of Parkland, FL on March 24, 2018 at the March for our Lives. Pine Trails Park, a place that once held memories of community 3K walks and soccer games, was now covered with 50+ news and media outlets standing before me. My small, precious hometown; a place that’s always been my escape, my safety net, my comfort, was now a place familiar to the whole world.
Twenty thousand in attendance. Seventeen lives taken. That bitter-sweet, sunny South Florida day, I looked out at the overwhelming crowd and spoke of the tragedy that took place a month prior, less than a mile away at my former high school, in the hallways where I evolved into the person I am today. Speaking on that stage that day was simultaneously the most heartbreaking and most empowering thing I’d ever done.
My heart is still broken, but in that moment, I cherished the fact that I was alive—and that I had the power and voice to speak in memory of my 17 fellow Eagles. I will never stop sharing their stories, pushing for change and growth, and remembering the day that turned all of our lives upside down.
11:30am PST, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
I was at my friend’s music studio in Encino, CA finishing up one of my new songs when I received that devastating text from my hometown best friend, “Douglas has a shooter inside, the school is on lockdown!” My heart sank deep into my chest and the pit in my stomach felt inevitable. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I immediately ran outside and contacted everyone in my family to make sure they were all safe. My brother happened to be working in a house neighboring the school. I remember him saying he could hear helicopters and madness. All I wanted to do was go home. I wanted to hug everyone I knew as tight as I could—and everyone I didn’t know as well.
At this point, we were still unsure of the death toll, or if anyone had even been shot. With non-stop prayers and crossed fingers, I was going back and forth with all of my friends and family from back home trying to get more information. I could feel my mind shutting down and my body becoming physically ill, from the stress of not knowing—and of anticipating the worst. Which was precisely the outcome for 17 of my fellow Eagles, that day.
Like Aaron Feis, the beloved football coach I remember so clearly from my days back at Douglas. A charismatic man known for his cheerful spirit, he was the first person I learned wouldn’t be going home that day. This hit everyone in our group text extremely hard.
“Enraged, confused, shook, heartbroken, at a complete loss of words—these were the things I felt in that moment.”
After a painful 12 hours, we learned the final death count: 17. I felt sick, again. When the names of the victims were publicly shared, we found out a family friend of ours, the beautiful Meadow Pollock, would also not be going home to her family that day. Enraged, confused, shook, heartbroken, at a complete loss of words—these were the things I felt in that moment.
All I wanted to do was fly home and hold on tight to everyone and everything Parkland. Unfortunately, I had obligations in Bucharest, Romania. I was already scheduled to fly out and finish our last and finalSharknadoinstallment. So, I boarded my flight and took the trip encapsulated in a large black cloud. I was flying in the wrong direction, even further away from my home, further away from my people.
In Bucharest, I walked into the restaurant in our hotel to see a TV screen flashing images of my high school on the other side of the world. CNN played with subtitles, reporters spoke of the massacre, while I sat there eating a Romanian “sour soup,” feeling helpless.
I had to do something, anything, to connect with my home, to try and help the healing process. I decided to put togethera video with all my influential friendsto share our love and condolences to friends and families in the Parkland community. This video included expressions of hope and the admiration we collectively shared for the brave students at MSD, as well as encouragement to the teenagers and faculty who would shortly have to face those same hallways, hallways last seen as a warzone. It was the absolute least I could do—and sadly also the most I could do from afar.
Now, here we are, five months later, with countless fundraisers, rallies, and the big March For Our Lives behind us. But mass shootings haven’t stopped. In Santa Fe, TX, another 10 precious souls were unjustly taken from of us on May 18th. Just a few weeks ago, in Annapolis, MD, five people were killed in a shooting at the Capital Gazette offices. But the violence and fear spans much more broadly than those two tragic events. In fact,there have been 138 mass shootings in the U.S. since Parkland.
My heart goes out, of course, but that just isn’t enough.
Where to go from here?
I didn’t come here to tell a political story, but more so to show the wider impact of what happens to human beings connected to places where shootings like this happen—not only those who’ve lost loved ones, but everyone in the community.
But I want to make sure I look forward as well. So, here’s one small thing that I’m doing: My charity,Boo2Bullying, has teamed up with Meadow’s Movement to help raise funds to build a park in Meadow’s name. A place where people can go to pay their respects to not only Meadow, but to the 16 other MSD victims as well. A place where people from all walks of life can meet, share stories and honor our 17 Eagle angels.
“One state down, forty-nine to go.”
But on a bigger scale, I want to make a plea for safer school systems for our children and teens. I whole-heartedly stand bySenate Bill 7026, “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” which was recently passed in Florida by 17 votes (coincidentally, the same number as the victims taken from us). Among other things, the bill prevents violent or mentally ill individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms or any other weapons as well as creating a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales, and banning the sale and possession of bump stocks. The bill also invests $400 million to keep schools safe and to help treat the mentally ill in Florida.
One state down, forty-nine to go.
It’s not an easy fight that’s ahead, but we can’t give up hope. We have to fight and love harder than ever.
In dedicating this piece, I wanted to share a bit about the significance of the eagle. According to the animal communications specialists atPure Spirit, “The eagle is the chief over all the winged creatures. Eagle conveys the powers and messages of the spirit; it is man’s connection to the divine because it flies higher than any other bird.” Which feels incredibly appropriate in remembering the 17 people we lost on February 14th.
Fly high Meadow Pollack, Aaron Feis, Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Jamie Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Helena Ramsey, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup and Peter Wang. Parkland’s February 14th, 2018 nightmare will not be in vain, we will prevail in honor of you and changes will be made. We are forever Parkland Strong.