On Valentine’s Day, Sofia Maria Ortiz, was heading to her fourth period class, nervous about the fact that she hadn’t done her homework. She thought she was lucky because just as she sat down at her desk, the fire alarm rang. Annoyed, her teacher asked students to follow the drill procedure which, coincidentally, they had done that morning. Suddenly, the intercom said, “Evacuate now!”.
Sofia is one of 900 students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, where a mass-shooting happened this Valentine’s day, leaving 17 dead.
Sofia and Ian, her friend, were evacuating towards the soccer field, when they heard what they thought were firecrackers. A police officer appeared and yelled, “Everybody down!”, creating immediate panic among students. As students ran through the field, Sofia didn’t know if she would make it home alive that night. They knew there was a shooter but didn’t know where he was. Although the students had done shooting drills before, Sofia said no one was prepared when it actually happened.
Sofia contacted her brother-in-law, who works in law enforcement, first as she didn’t want to create panic in her family group chat. Along with her fried Ian, she managed to get across the street to the nearest commercial plaza, from where she texted friends and family letting them know she was safe. Meanwhile, in her friends’ group chat, she received texts such as “I’m trapped in a closet” and “he’s in my building”.
“My first reaction was fear. Nothing but fear. Knowing that my friends were at risk of death was terrifying,” recounted Sofia.
Megan, Sofia’s best friend, told her that, as she was hiding, the shooter came to the door and knocked, pretending to be a police officer in order to get in. Another friend, Isa, has an abrasion from two bullets in her arm and foot. Her favourite teacher had to give her t-shirt to the police as evidence, since it was filled with students’ blood.
“Receiving “i love u” texts from my friends because they didn’t think they were going to make it out of that building, is honestly the worst feeling in the world,” said Sofia
Carmen Schentrup, her friend, was among those who passed away that day (RIP).
As for the shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, Sofia said, “I knew exactly who he was. He was well known among students and had built himself a reputation. He had hit on a friend of mine on the bus, threatening her to get her to date him. He had albums of gun photos on his camera roll. He had brought knives to school to sell. He bagged my friends’ items at the store he worked at. He had been expelled last year because of misconduct. He was always known as a very odd kid, but no one gave in to him.”
After Cruz’s mother passed away last November, he moved in to a family that lives a block down from Sofia’s house. “I never knew he was that close to me”, she said.
When asked about media’s response to the incident, Sofia said that it has been obnoxious. Not only has it been triggering to listen and watch to the news, which she avoids, but reporters have also invaded their privacy. They eavesdrop into conversations, to later ask to feature their story on their news outlet. She said that during Carmen’s funeral, while friends and family were praying and crying, media reporters were preying on them. “The media has had no sensitivity and is hitting everyone at every angle they can,” she said.
As for social media, she’s currently taking a break from it. Since the shooting, social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, are filled with violent pictures and videos, which are very triggering to those wanting to overcome the trauma of the event. “They’ve exploited these videos showing dead children like it was nothing!” She told us.
Cruz’s violence is attributed to his mental illness. However, Sofia reminds us that “mentally ill or sane, he killed my friend and 16 other innocent lives.” Sofia also believes that this is not about mental illness, but about guns.
As Emma Gonzalez said, “he wouldn’t have done this much damage with a knife”.
Sofia adds, “don’t make it seem as mental health is something shameful and scary, selling weapons used at war to a 19-year-old is the real shameful act here.” She also recognizes that these violent events are gendered, predominantly committed by white males, saying that, “society has created an ideal male, whose only sense of empowerment comes from anger and violence”. According to her, men are broken, and it is not until we deconstruct toxic masculinity and build a new model that our violence problems will be fixed.
In the aftermath of the events, Sofia said that Parkland has become very supportive.
“Local restaurants and shops have donated to the GoFundMe accounts of the victims, they’ve offered free meals, and we’ve had 24/7 grieving counseling on sight at our local park.”
The Stoneman Douglas High School is in process of demolishing the “freshmen building”, where the events took place. While the school reorganizes 900 students’ schedules for their comeback on Tuesday February 27th, students have been vocal and active in the gun reform movement.
“We are going to make a difference,” Sofia said, “and it’s coming fast!” She urges fellow Americans to speak to their local congressman, or anyone in positions of power, to help in gun reform. “Enough is certainly enough.” She said. We were once called the “snowflake generation”, spoiled in our instantly gratifying world, but it is this generation, not the adults “in charge”, who are making things happen. “Our culture and society must come for a change, and it’ll happen whether anyone associated with NRA likes it or not.”
These teenagers, too young to have experienced such a tragedy, but old enough to speak up, are leaving us all in awe, but it shouldn’t be this way. The victims and survivors shouldn’t be the ones doing all the labour. There shouldn’t be victims, in the first place. Going to school shouldn’t be a life or death situation. Sofia shares her experience so that no one else has to endure this pain again.
“It is so vital to have every voice speak up, to have everyone be united to make a change.” She said. “Whether you were personally affected or not, you have a voice. Don’t let it die out because of intimidation or because you think it won’t make a difference. Believe me, it will.”
As she urges us to put ourselves in the shoes of the survivors, victims, family members, and the wider Parkland community, she asks us to count our blessings and to help her raise her and others’ survivors’ voices to finally make a long-overdue change.