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‘And I thought we were young’: Parkland survivors at USF grieve Texas elementary school shooting

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors are confronted with heartbreak and frustration as more children fall victim to gun violence at school. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/ROBB ELEMENTARY

As more information was reported about the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Bianca Romano could only hope the death toll wouldn’t surpass that of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Romano, now a sophomore international studies major at USF, was a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, sitting in class on the first floor of the freshman building — just a couple classrooms away from where the shooter killed 17 of her peers.   

“The shootings, especially this one, have been kind of numb. It hurts when you see that your number has been over-passed,” she said. “There were 17 students and teachers who passed away that day [at Stoneman Douglas]. And for Robb Elementary it’s 21. Nineteen kids and two adults. 

“At first I think I heard 14. I was like, oh my God, that is so many but as long as they don’t pass us. And then it eventually came out that it was 21. So many people who I still am in contact with at Douglas were very, very shocked.” 

The three deadliest school shootings in U.S. history have occurred within the past 10 years. Robb Elementary and Stoneman Douglas are the most recent, and the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut is the deadliest with 27 fatalities. All of the attackers used an AR-15 assault rifle. 

For over two decades, the U.S. has topped the charts of deaths related to gun violence in high-income territories that have a population of at least 10 million, according to Excluding infants, 15% of all deaths for those 20 and under are attributed to gun violence. This figure is 13 times greater than those of France and 22 times the European Union as a whole.   

Sophomore health sciences major Brandon Dietrich said it is equally frustrating as it is confusing that the U.S. continues to mourn tragedies related to gun violence without any significant change. 

As of now, it appears legislators are more concerned about citizens owning assault rifles than they are about children having a secure environment to learn, according to Dietrich.

After a single mass shooting in 2019 that resulted in 51 deaths, New Zealand gave its citizens six months to sell their guns to the government, according to a May Time’s article

In just the past month between two attacks — Robb Elementary and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York — 31 people have been killed by gun violence and no federal initiatives have followed. Both assaults were completed by 18-year-olds using an AR-15 assault rifle. 

“It’s just so crazy to me that we’ve been able to go years, on years, on years, and still having the exact same problem,” Dietrich said. “We see this huge issue that’s only mainly in America, and America can’t fix it. It’s the fact that we are forced to go to school and get an education, but we aren’t ensured safety at that place.”

Even with students organizing advocacy groups such as March for Our Lives to help prevent their peers from experiencing similar trauma, Dietrich said he is pessimistic that impactful legislation will materialize. The recent string of mass shootings has demonstrated that the demographic and quantity of victims aren’t compelling enough factors for legislators to consider when scripting gun safety laws, according to Dietrich.  

“After four years from [Stoneman Douglas] and even though this is a larger amount of people and a younger demographic, I really don’t know if there is going to be any change. I, of course, would hope and I really, really, really want there to be change,” he said. 

“When something happens in a state, they decide to change one little thing and hope for the best rather than change it in the country.”

Following the May 24 shooting, Romano said her best friend, herself and some others who were also in the building with her four years ago have been avoiding reading new information about it as much as possible. However, with news being shared on social media platforms it has become difficult to avoid.

“That’s kind of what a lot of us try to do to save our psyches, to stay away from the news as much as possible,” she said. “But sometimes I feel like I have to make a statement and with this one, I felt like I had to make a statement.

“I made a post on my Instagram story talking about how hard it is to heal after these types of things that happen. With my life post-Douglas, I’ve been trying to focus on mental health advocacy … I want to get the word out and let people know how hard it is to live with this type of trauma and how hard it is to heal from it.”

As more mass shootings occur, victims are faced with reliving history and their trauma, according to sophomore Sebastian Osorio Vargas.

“I think that all of us that were there [at Stoneman Douglas] on that day just want to move on,” Osorio Vargas said. “We are part of a club we didn’t choose to be a part of and being reminded of it every time there’s a mass shooting just brings it all back.”

When Dietrich heard the news of Robb Elementary, he also anxiously monitored the numbers, hoping the fatalities wouldn’t match or surpass Stoneman Douglas.

“It just broke my heart,” he said. “These are kids that are in fourth grade. Ten-year-olds. And I thought we were young. I was a freshman, I was 14. My friends were 15 and I thought that was young.”

As survivors, and having experienced the same as the victims at Robb Elementary but at an older age, Romano said she and her friends feel like they need to be the advocates for those children.

“They can’t even really comprehend what’s going on. And I’m sure that so many of their teachers and parents are not really telling them what happened to spare them,” she said. “A lot of us feel that we need to stand up for these kids. They’re even younger than us.

“I think what hurts the most is knowing that these kids will live with this for the rest of their lives. This is something that’s going to impact them for decades to come. It still impacts me, and I’m far from it.”