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March for Our Lives: Life after Parkland high school mass shooting

On Valentine’s Day, David Hogg listened to the screams of his classmates as they were shot dead by a former student.

The year since has been a rollercoaster. The 18-year-old and his friends from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, including the force of nature that is Emma Gonzalez, have become household names as they refused to accept what is happening in America any longer.

In March, I watched these impressive teenagers lead hordes of the hopeful, the bereaved and the survivors through the streets of Washington at the March For Our Lives protest.

It felt like something massive was shifting, but it was only the beginning of a long, hard road.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed and 17 injured by Nikolas Cruz, 19, at the high school in Parkland, Florida.

A group of determined young people decided enough was enough, and they would have to do what the grown-ups could not. Galvanised, they began campaigning for the US to look at its gun laws before any more innocent people died.

media_cameraDavid Hogg became a leading voice in the March for our Lives movement after he survived February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. Picture: AP Photo/Steven Senne
media_cameraIn March, the teenagers organised a record-breaking demonstration in Washington in support of gun control. Picture: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
media_cameraThe students channelled their trauma into organising a global protest. Picture: Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP

“Books not bullets,” the signs read that day.

“Don’t kill me, I’m 11,” said another.

It was enough to make any heart ache. But not enough for the powerful gun lobby, which was instantly sceptical.

Conspiracy theories sprang up claiming David and his fellow activists were actors. The group’s speaking events were swarmed with angry protesters. There were threats on David’s life, and at one point he had a security detail.

“People forget the times where me and my friends have been swatted and plotted assassination attempts,” he told NPR. “People forget that we are young people that are simply trying to end gun violence in America and it’s OK to have a political difference. It’s not OK to try to kill children that are trying to change the world.”

But he says this isn’t about politics. He wants research into gun laws, and commonsense measures put in place.

Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham mocked the teenager on Twitter after he was rejected by four colleges. The same universities are now chasing him for paid speaking gigs.

It’s hard to believe he was only born in 2000, and how much has changed for him in less than a year.

media_cameraDetermined not to become a blurry memory, the teenagers have continued campaigning all year. Picture: AP Photo/Joel Auerbach
media_cameraNikolas Cruz confessed to killing 17 students and staff and injured 17 more. Picture: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool
media_cameraStudents who survived the shooting, including Emma Gonzalez, took action which echoed around the world. Picture: AFP/Rhona Wise

Now, his priorities are less academic and more about maintaining the momentum. He and a group of 25 young people have spent months on the road visiting 75 cities, most recently encouraging young people to register to vote.

November’s midterm elections saw the highest youth turnout in history.

On December 18, the Trump administration rolled out new federal regulation banning so-called bump stocks.

Media outlets are still chasing him, but he’s ready to go to college next year. He’s been hospitalised from all the travelling and working, but his hope hasn’t died.

Instead he’s channelled his trauma into a purpose.

At the moment of the shooting, something switched on inside David.

Hiding in dark classroom, he began recording himself on his phone. “We’re in a school,” he said, in a perfect imitation of a TV news reporters. “An active shooter.”

At first, he explained the students had thought it was a drill.

“Then we heard more gunshots,” he said. “And that was when we realised, this was not a drill.”

media_cameraThe March for Our Lives leaders toured the country encouraging young people to register to vote — and the midterms saw a record youth turnout. Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

Originally published as Vicious aftermath of mass shooting

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