Parkland Shooting Survivors Spent the Year Advocating Change, Coping With Trauma

From marches against gun-violence to pushing for better school safety measures, survivors and family members combine relentless activism with recovering and mourning

Ben Sales
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FILE PHOTO: Emma Gonzalez, a student and shooting survivor from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, addresses the conclusion of the "March for Our Lives" in Washington, March 24, 2018
FILE PHOTO: Emma Gonzalez, a student and shooting survivor from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, addresses the conclusion of the "March for Our Lives" in WashingtonCredit: \ Aaron Bernstein/ REUTERS
Ben Sales

Five weeks after she hid on the floor of the auditorium at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a mass shooter terrorized the campus, Casey Sherman was helping organize a 30,000-person march against gun violence in Parkland.

When the buzz of that activism wore off, the then-17-year-old moved on to her next project: co-founding a nonprofit with another student to help people engage in civic activism. The organization, Empower the People, partnered in October with “Insatiable,” a Netflix show, to get out the vote ahead of the midterm elections.

But while she was trying to create change on a national stage, Sherman also was dealing with personal trauma. She began to startle at loud noises. Last week, while passing a building where the fire alarm was blaring, she froze. Why weren’t people streaming out the doors?

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Sherman, along with other Parkland students, teachers and parents, has spent the past year combining relentless activism with recovering from the shooting and mourning the 17 people killed on February 14, 2018. Sometimes, she says, the two work hand in hand: Her grief propels her to keep fighting for a safer world. But she knows that other times, organizing marches and registering voters allows her to avoid dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy.

The shooting led to a burst of student-led activism from this quiet, sunny suburban community near the beach. High school juniors and seniors confronted national politicians on CNN. The March for Our Lives in Washington brought as many as 800,000 people to the capital to protest gun violence. In the time since, parents of slain students have started organizations to address the issue and honor their children’s memory.

Noah Fineberg, who was close family friends with Jaime Guttenberg, one of the murdered students, attended his first political protest at the March for Our Lives and hasn’t looked back. He interned last summer and fall for Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, working seven days a week. Still a student at the nearby Deerfield Beach High School, he is now the campaign manager for a local mayoral candidate.

He, like Sherman, is also active in NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth group, and participated in its Shabbat services the day of the march. “We realized, we were having lunch in the Capitol, and we were saying, like, oh my God, we just walked into members of Congress’ office and we basically demanded a meeting, and we got one in five minutes,” he said, describing an impromptu lobbying trip he took the day before the march. “That is our power right now.”

Not everyone is focused on boosting gun control legislation. One of the parents, Lori Alhadeff, focuses instead on measures to make schools safer, given the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.

Lori Alhadeff, mother of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff who was one of 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, January 30, 2019Credit: Brynn Anderson,AP

She helped pass legislation in New Jersey to require silent alarms in schools to alert law enforcement in the event of an emergency like a shooting. The policy is called Alyssa’s Law, in memory of Alhadeff’s daughter, who was 14 when she was killed.

Make Our Schools Safe, the organization founded by Alhadeff and her husband, Ilan, also has helped provide schools with Stop the Bleed kits, which contain medical supplies to stem traumatic hemorrhaging. It is mobilizing students at Stoneman Douglas and elsewhere to encourage their schools to implement safety measures. The Alhadeffs met in December with President Donald Trump about his School Safety Commission.

Next year, Sherman will be off to college. She hopes to continue her activism and, like many graduating seniors, is nervous about keeping in touch with her friends.

But Sherman is ready to move forward. “This is the only place where everyone went through the exact same thing,” she said. “It’s definitely a huge source of support. It will be hard to leave, but I’m definitely ready for the next chapter of my life.”



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