‘I sat in that chair crying for three hours’: We spoke to a survivor of the Florida shooting
‘I won’t be leaving this fight until I can say it’s over and that we won’
On February 14th Nikolas Cruz triggered fire alarms at a Florida high school forcing hundreds of students out of their classrooms for the shooter to open fire with an assault rifle. The shooting saw 17 people killed as well as 14 others who have been wounded, including several with life-threatening injuries.
Since this tragic event students have rallied together to condemn American gun legislation. One such student is Sheryl Acquaroli who has been a prominent activist since the attack giving speeches at rallies and addressing a letter to congress after attending the vote at the state capital. We spoke to Sheryl about her experiences during and after the shooting at her school.
Could you describe the events of February 14th?
"We had a fire drill so we all go outside but then people are saying they heard gunshots [so] we go into a code red. So all of us outside don't know what to do and the teachers start yelling telling us to leave the school grounds like a code black (bomb threat). At this point there are police sirens and the first helicopter shows up. I call my dad and he tells me to get as far away from the school as possible.
"A ton of people started to jump the fence that led into the field of the middle school and I was starting to panic because they wouldn't tell us what was happening so I jumped too and started to head towards the plaza right next to the schools. There I saw my teacher and when I asked him what was happening he told me someone was shot.
"I find my friends and call my mom. The second I have to tell my mom that my school is being shot up I start crying. We sit down and I can't stop crying and I can barely breathe. I sat in that chair crying for three hours.
"My best friend was stuck in a closet, another was stuck in the same building the shooter was in. It was hours before someone came to save them. I found out the next morning one of my friends had died and one of my close friends was in the hospital."
What do you think needs to be done to target radicalisation and mental illness in schools?
"More funding definitely. People constantly say that we need this and that in schools but many don’t understand how little funding schools actually get. Another thing is that therapy is not covered with health insurance so many people cant afford it."
Do you think that this was an issue of mental health/radicalisation from the shooter?
"While mental health played a part it is definitely an issue of gun safety. People all over the world have mental health issues but America is the only first world country where hundreds of people get murdered for it. I definitely think mental health should have more attention payed to it but that's not the main issue."
Since the attack Sheryl has been campaigning alongside her fellow students for gun control. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be back in school from Wednesday of next week.
Will the school be putting in place any measures to help students readjust?
"Well there is no requirement for attendance and we get out at 11:40am instead of 2:40pm and there will be many counsellors on the school grounds for everyone."
How are you feeling about going back and how has the atmosphere been with your classmates?
"Excited to be honest. I'm excited to see my friends and teachers and to make a big statement that we are much stronger than anyone thinks! Everyone is so supportive of everyone and we all make an effort to reach out to each other and everyone is standing together like a family almost. We all make sure everyone is taking care of themselves, sleeping and eating. It's amazing to see how close everyone has gotten and stayed in these times!"
In terms of gun control do you expect the UK government to put pressure on the US for change?
"I hope they put some pressure on the US it might actually help."
You've been a key figure at rallies fighting for gun control, what would you say to young people that want to help target this issue?
"Do everything you can! Whether it’s convincing your parents to vote if you live in the US, or participating in walk-outs or rallies, even just spreading the word online can do a lot to help! You don't have to go as far as I did to help, even the smallest things can make a difference."
If you could say something face to face with Trump right now what would it be?
"There would be many many things I would want to say to him but one thing I would definitely want answers to is why won't you do something? Because people are out there getting murdered and you have the power to stop it and yet you are spending all your time talking about yourself and golfing."
When asked if she plans to continue her activism Sheryl responded "Definitely! I wont be leaving this fight until I can say its over and that we won."
Nikolas Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. There will be a rallies held in March to further support the #NeverAgain campaign.