A day after the Florida high school shooting that killed at least 17 people and left 16 wounded, an Israeli student at the school provided a chilling account of the attack, saying she couldn’t fathom going back to “where we saw all that happen.”
Speaking on Israeli Army Radio Thursday morning, the girl, calling herself Roni, recounted how she and her classmates heard gunshots and instinctively ran for shelter to the side of their classroom in Parkland, about an hour north of Miami.
“About two minutes later, a fire alarm went off. But since we already had a fire alarm earlier in the morning, the teacher said to stay put,” she said. “So we stayed where we were until everyone else left, and then we left the room. About two seconds later, everyone started running and screaming, so we dodged into another classroom and closed the doors. We could hear the man shooting.”
A former student at the school, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was detained by police in connection with the murders, and was charged on Thursday morning.
The attack began at 14:30 local time (21:30 Israel time) on Wednesday, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
At least one Jewish student was killed and four wounded, according to reports. A local affiliate of ABC television named Jewish student Jaime Guttenberg as one of the dead. Her Facebook page was quickly updated to say: “Remembering Jaime Guttenberg. We hope people who love Jaime will find comfort in visiting her profile to remember and celebrate her life.”
The Yeshiva World, meanwhile, reported that another Jewish victim, Ben Wikander, was shot three times in the attack and was undergoing surgery at Broward North hospital in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
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According to a statement released by Chabad, the Jewish outreach movement, at least 40 percent of the student body at the school was Jewish.
In her account, Roni recalled how the gunman began shouting and banging on the door, “asking us to open it and help him – but we wouldn’t.” Then, she and her classmates suddenly began hearing gunshots and screams from a classroom just below.
Roni said the children remained in the room for about 40 minutes, before they were escorted out by a SWAT team. During that time, she said, they communicated with their parents by text message, begging them to call the police. Many children were crying, she said. She said their teacher remained with then throughout and helped keep them calm.
While they were being escorted out of the classroom, she added, the students had to walk past “dead bodies, blood and smoke from guns.”
Roni said a friend of hers had been killed in the attack, but that “it hasn’t sunken in yet.”
Asked if the children had considered fleeing the classroom, she said they hadn’t because the shooter would have had an easier time getting to them that way. “He was one floor beneath us,” she explained. “We were on third floor, and it started on the first floor.”
“It was a wrenching scene,” Rabbi Mendy Gutnick, youth director at Chabad of Parkland, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Parents were gathered outside while their children were still inside of the school, and they had no way to save them.”
Speaking with Haaretz, David Hogg, a senior at the high school, recounted how he was in the middle of his AP environmental science class when he heard a pop.
“And we tell the teacher, ‘Hey, that sounded a lot like a gunshot,’” Hogg recalled. The science teacher closed the door, but then the fire alarm went off for the second time that day. He said the students had no choice but to evacuate because that was school policy. He said he thought it was part of a readiness drill, since there had already been a similar drill that morning. The possibility that there could be a real shooting underway in “safe, suburban, almost yawningly quiet Parkland” seemed preposterous to him, he noted.
But a janitor whom Hogg described as “an angel” held the students back, telling them they were headed straight for the shooter. Another teacher pulled him and other students in from the hallway and herded them into a closet. While holed up there for nearly an hour, they went on social media and learned that there was indeed an active shooter in the school.
“While I was in there, I thought, ‘What impact have I had? What will my story be if I die here?’” Hogg said, speaking to Haaretz a few hours after the attack. He is a student journalist at the in-house television station at the school, which boasts a large campus and over 3,000 students.
“And the only thing I could think of was to pull out the camera and try telling others. As a student journalist, and as an aspiring journalist, that’s all I could think: Get other people’s stories on tape. If we all die the camera survives, and that’s how we get the message out there – about how we want change to be brought about. So nobody, no parent, has to go through this. No child has to bleed out on their school floor,” he said, his voice brittle with anger.
After he escaped, with students gradually evacuated in groups by SWAT and police teams, Hogg went home and sent his video to the SunSentinel, a prominent newspaper in South Florida.
Wednesday’s shooting now has the tragic distinction of being the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012 – and also the 18th school shooting of 2018. Hogg’s younger sister, a freshman at Marjory Stone Douglas, was home waiting for news of a friend who was still missing more than seven hours after the shooting, leaving family and friends to fear the worst.
“The fact that 17 parents are going home tonight to silent rooms that no longer have children to inhabit them is a testament to the state this country is in,” Hogg said. “And what it needs to be is a point for us to reflect and think: What has gone wrong here? Why is all of this happening, and how do we solve it?”
Judy Maltz co-wrote this report.