Editor’s Note: Will Gilroy, 15, is a freshman at Stoneman Douglas High School, a member of the debate club and senator for the DECA club. He plays basketball for the local town league. He survived Wednesday’s school shooting at their Parkland, Florida, high school. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
I was at school and anxious to leave for the day. The bell was supposed to ring in about 10 minutes. Then the fire alarm went off. The whole class was sort of skeptical about the alarm, thinking it was a prank or an accident. Half of my class walked outside, and everyone made sure they had their phones.
Then we saw two security guards and they said get back inside now. So we ran back and we heard firecracker-like noises. We had been told about a month ago that we were supposed to have an active-shooter drill with the police shooting blanks. So we thought this was the drill.
We followed the procedures: turn the lights off, make sure the door is locked and get out of sight. We hid in a closet – 30 kids, thinking this was another one of those drills we had to do for no reason. We were there for about 20 minutes, and we heard sirens, so then we realized that this was real. We texted our parents saying we were safe.
Since my mom was at her school about half a mile away, I texted her asking if her school was on lockdown. She said yes, there is a shooter at your school.
I texted my dad next. He is ex-military, so he told me try not to use your phones and not to talk, since there was little air in the closet, making everyone overheat. We also were looking at social media, seeing our friends saying there’s a shooter on campus, be safe.
We also saw on our phones that our school was on “Ellen.” During this, our classmates tried to comfort each other; we all were saying it’s going to be OK, just try not to be too scared. People were crying. I was more shocked then anything. I wasn’t too scared, because my dad has prepared me for this. Most of the time I was thinking, I can’t believe this is happening to my school. Never in a million years.
My friend called me asking where I was. I told him I was still in the school. He said that he was on the other side of the campus and the security got them out by hopping a fence to Westglades, the middle school next door. He said he had nowhere to go, so I told him to take some kids with him to my house, which was right behind the school.
We kept hearing rumors about who was shot and how many gunmen there were. We heard it was one to three gunmen, and we heard there was a sniper – just crazy rumors. After an hour, the police came in, saying, “This is Broward County Police Department. Come out with your hands up.”
For about two minutes we did not want to go out, because we could not see who was there. We heard three voices and then heard, “I need a body on this door” – which was our closet. Then our teacher went out, after she thought they had gone, and then we heard them say, “Hands up. Drop anything in your hands.”
Most of us had paper plates that our teacher had passed out to use as fans. Then they said, “Keep your hands up; don’t grab anything. If you have a bag on, leave it on.”
They escorted us to the street, and if you had a bag, you had to drop it in a pile there. They asked three questions: Were we hurt, had we captured anything on phone or video, and did we know anything about the gunman. After that they let us leave.
I had thought it was going to be a nice Valentine’s Day, and never thought something like this could happen here. I have been spending time with my classmates today and it is really sinking in how some of my friends won’t be in school again.
My teachers did everything they were supposed to do to keep us safe and it was still not enough. I had to research gun control for my debate class this year. There were more laws in place than I realized, but they are not consistent across states, allowing for loopholes. Also, many of those laws can’t be properly managed because of a lack of funding.
I hope that the government can find a way to finally do a better job of keeping students safe, so this tragedy does not just become another statistic.
By Kristi Gilroy
Editor’s note: Kristi Gilroy, Will Gilroy’s mother, is a teacher at Country Hills Elementary School, where she has worked for 19 years. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Wednesday morning I gave my son his annual Valentine gift, a bag of some of his favorite chocolates, and told him I loved him. We say we love each other every morning as we both head off to school – it’s one of my favorite daily routines.
I drove past Stoneman Douglas High School on the way to the school where I teach, as I do every morning, and noticed one teen dressed in a red skirt and matching red Keds. None of the other students were dressed for the holiday, in stark contrast to the elementary school students – a sea of red and pink – as I arrived at work.
At 2:32, my son texted me to ask if there was a drill at his school; the students weren’t sure. I said I didn’t know, and then my own school went on lockdown as the horrible events at Stoneman Douglas High School played out.
Before Wednesday, I could look out my bedroom window and see the top of the freshman building above the trees in my backyard. Today there is crime tape and police lights.
Before Wednesday, I could go running by the park and think of my son’s next basketball game. Today, I think of the candlelight vigil held there in honor of the lives lost.
Before Wednesday, I could wave to our school resource officer as he watches over our students on the way to lunch, and give a friendly smile. Today, I will think about how he was a first responder at Stoneman Douglas, risking his life to save my child.
Before Wednesday, I thought of my son’s teachers in relation to assignments he had. Today, I thank them for following procedures to keep our children safe, some giving their lives to do so.
Before Wednesday, if I told people I was from Parkland I would need to add “a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.” Today, everyone will know.
Before Wednesday, if you googled my name you might find a local news piece about my students inspiring the change made to the Coral Springs town flag. Today, you will find an image of me hugging a former student who watched her teacher get shot, saving her life. As I stroked her hair she told me, “I will never be the same.”
Recently, I have been training for a marathon. The loop I make on my run includes the park where the vigil was held, the high school, the Walmart and McDonald’s where the gunman stopped after he killed my son’s classmates.
I don’t know when or if I will ever pass these places again and not associate them with this event. I will be dedicating my run to all those who lost their lives and those who made sure that there were survivors of this tragic event.
Before Wednesday, I planned to go to a movie this weekend – wait, there have been shootings in theaters.
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Before Wednesday, I had bought concert tickets for my son – wait, there have been shootings at concerts.
Before Wednesday, I had made plans to fly out of Fort Lauderdale airport – wait, shootings there, too.
When do I get to make plans again, like sending my child to school and knowing he will be safe, and not having to worry about a young man with a gun?