The names of the 17 victims were read aloud.
Students, many fighting back tears, walked forward with candles and flowers, placing them on the ledge of the MLK fountain where pictures of the victims and other symbolic items, such as a Douglas baseball cap, were placed.
Some stayed at the ledge, eyes closed and heads bowed for minutes. Others fell into their old classmates and friends’ arms, weeping.
This was the scene Friday night at a candlelight vigil, organized by former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students to honor the 17 victims of Wednesday’s mass shooting in Parkland.
USF has 97 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, but many returned home to Parkland to be with family.
Those who were at the vigil spoke about things such as old high school memories, stories about victims, stories of heroics on the day of the shooting and, most prominently, a call for change and unity. The vigil lasted for over an hour, with 23 students and Provost Ralph Wilcox speaking.
“My sister and I don’t have the strongest relationship like most brothers and sisters should have,” Riana Scalia, whose sister goes to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, said. “We fight a lot, but when I heard (about the shooting), I realized, ‘Oh my God, she might not be okay.’ I’m four hours away, and I won’t be able to be there to be the big sister. It was the worst feeling.”
Scalia went on to speak for five more minutes about the communities of Coral Springs and Parkland uniting, as well as emphasizing to make sure the victims are never forgotten.
“They didn’t deserve this,” Scalia said. “I don’t think anybody does.”
A pin-drop could be heard in-between speakers. After one student told his or her story, another would somberly walk forward from the Plaza’s bench and memorial area toward the fountain. They’d usually start by saying the year they graduated from Douglas and then proceed to speak — microphone in one hand, plastic candle in the other.
“One of the injured was her (Carmen Schentrup’s) best friend,” an unnamed student said about her former orchestra stand partner at Douglas. “In situations, we don’t think to save other lives first, but she did. Instead of running, she huddled her friends. Carmen shielded her friends and saved them from getting any more injured. She basically sacrificed her life for her friend.”
Schentrup, 16, didn’t survive the shooting. Before her untimely passing, she was one of 10 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas to qualify as a National Merit Scholar semifinalist for 2018.
In addition to mourning, some speakers called for change in the form of gun control.
“It didn’t really feel real when they said numerous fatalities,” Rachel Schwartz, whose cousin still attends Douglas, said. “Then, when they said 17, it took my breath away. Whatever your views on gun control are, I think we all agree that things like this can’t keep happening. We have to change something, some law, now.”
On a board titled “How do we change?” students at the vigil placed sticky notes that echoed Schwartz’ view. Seventeen of the 30 sticky notes called for “Gun control,” or “Gun reform,” with some going into more detail. Others were vague saying, “This can never happen again.”
“Let’s stop protecting guns and start protecting children,” one sticky note read.
“Don’t elect politicians who value the NRA more than children,” said another.
Provost Ralph Wilcox weighed in on the topic of gun control as well.
“There’s been a lot of talk tonight about the need for change,” Wilcox said. “I’m of the generation that has let you down. However, I feel about gun control or mental health issues within this nation, we collectively have to do a better job for generations to come — for your younger brothers, sisters.”
He continued by naming counseling services USF is offering to help students who are grieving and need somebody to talk to.
Though the shooting is in the past, it’s effects will last a lifetime for many former students.
“No, Douglas will never be the same or even close to it,” Scalia said. “But we will stand together. We stay united and we will always be proud to be an Eagle. May our 17 angels fly high and they rest in peace.”