by Erik Garcia
Claire McCue, a professor of social work at Hunter College in New York City, was in a Manhattan coffee shop using her laptop when she saw her hometown high school all over the national news. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had never been in the national spotlight before. Claire, who has family and friends at the school, feared the worst.
Claire borrowed headphones from another customer in the coffee shop and nervously watched a livestream of the Coral Springs Police Department responding to a shooting reported at Douglas High School. She worried about friends and people she knew.
Claire called her close friend, Allison, who has twin daughters at the school. Allison was already rushing to the school to see if her girls were all right. “It was horrifying to see the school under those circumstances,” Claire recounted. “My nephew Joe lost his friend. Knowing the first responders personally…it was all just paralyzing.” Allison’s girls, it turned out, were not harmed.
Many Douglas High School graduates, myself included, and parents of current students had experiences like Claire’s on the day of the shooting. “Parkland is a small town,” explains Valerie Siegel, a Douglas graduate now living in Atlanta, GA. “Many of us have friends that still live in the area and have kids or other family members at Douglas.”
Douglas High School graduates are troubled by the shooting but also hopeful that the current generation of Douglas students will accomplish something positive in the wake of the tragedy. “I was pretty devastated when I heard about it,” says Brian Bromberg, a director of creative content at Nickelodeon in New York City. Brian grew up in South Florida near Douglas High School, and, like many Douglas graduates, Brian says that he was shocked and upset by the shooting but feels hopeful as he sees current Douglas students leading the national discourse on gun violence.
“A lot of people who were affected are kids of former classmates of mine,” Brian explains. “I know of two kids who are traumatized by it. I know two of the kids that were shot—I know their parents. But, it’s very encouraging how the kids are reacting. They haven’t had enough experience with politics yet to feel like nothing’s going to change. They’re going to get more done than our generation did.”
The day after the shooting, Douglas graduates from all over the U.S. rallied to support their alma mater. Details are being kept private to avoid publicity. The extended Douglas family admires and supports the efforts of current Douglas students to get existing firearm regulations modified and new regulations enacted. Within weeks of the shooting, prompted by the lobbying of Douglas students, the Florida Legislature passed modest gun control legislation that increased the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and expanded background checks, but stopped short of banning assault weapons. Banning assault rifles is one of the demands of the 17 Voices movement, led by Douglas students, formed in the wake of the shooting.
Stuart Siegel is a Douglas graduate now living in Ajo, Arizona where he is director of the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center. “I felt saddened and shocked,” Stuart explained, “but also numbness due to the number of shootings that there have been, and how the rhetoric seems to get us nowhere, and how we just seem to be aggressive and divided. But, I’m impressed by the way that the current students are handling it—getting national attention repeatedly, leading the national discussion on gun control and violence in a way that I’ve never seen before. I’m cynical about the political process, but I’m hopeful that whatever energy is stirred up right now will continue to bear fruit.”
Valerie Siegel, who works with the Homebuilder’s Association in Atlanta, knew one of the Douglas shooting victims, assistant football coach Aaron Feis. “Coach was two years younger than me,” Valerie explained. “My friends are extremely affected by his death. My friend’s nieces and daughter were in the building. I hate that people feel unsafe in that building now. I don’t know how to think about any of it. Those kids are amazing, though. They’re going to change the world.”