PARK CITY — Two survivors of the Florida school shooting that claimed 17 lives last year traced their paths Saturday night from high schoolers who loved debate and dance to advocates seeking to prevent others from experiencing the gun violence that forever altered their lives.
Speaking to a rapt audience of more than 400 teenagers, parents and others in the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts in Park City, Jaclyn Corin and David Hogg recalled the stampede of students fleeing gunfire late in the day on Feb. 14, 2018. Seventeen were killed that day and 17 more wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Instead of turning to social media to grieve, Corin recalled, “I immediately got political.”
After a county commissioner handed her the phone number of a state senator, she remembered organizing a bus trip just days after the shooting that would bring dozens of students to advocate for gun reforms at the state capitol, a seven-hour drive from their town.
And while those in Parkland continue to discuss the extended trauma in their own community, Corin said, the public in other parts of the nation has largely moved on.
“Sometimes they recall, ‘Oh, that happened in Connecticut,’ or ‘Oh, that happened in Florida, or ‘Oh, that happened in Vegas,’ but this is our reality every single day, especially the students that had to go back to school that year and years after. Because of that reality, because those videos and images were playing in our heads, some people didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Though a new mental health center has recently opened in Parkland, she said, students long lacked the proper resources to get help in addressing their trauma. In March, a little more than a year after the shooting, a current student and a graduate took their own lives.
“It’s terrifying knowing that that number could potentially rise,” Corin said.
Her former classmate Nikolas Cruz is charged with opening fire on the school with a semi-automatic rifle, carrying out the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 attack at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, authorities said. Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of murder.
On Saturday, Corin and Hogg did not review the specifics of a plan they have devised with other organizers to combat gun violence across the United States but said they have made progress in driving up voter registration among young people and in directing the attention of politicians to the issue.
And though Utah may have few mass shootings in its history, Hogg said its communities are not immune from the devastating effects of gunfire.
“The majority of gun violence in the United States, plain and simple, happen in communities like Park City, happen in communities like Parkland, happen in communities that are predominantly rural and suburban communities,” Hogg said, adding in large part they are suicides. “To end that pain, picking up a gun is easier in basically every community in the U.S. than being able to pick up a phone and call a quality affordable therapist.”
The pair said while mental illness often is a factor in mass shootings, it is not the only cause of the violence, and other contributing elements like xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism are largely underplayed.
Hogg called on Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to take action on assault weapons as Romney did when he was governor of Massachusetts, when he signed such a ban there.
The students championed the awareness they have drummed up through March for Our Lives, with chapters around the country and in Utah.
Toward the end of the question-and-answer session that lasted roughly an hour and a half, moderator Teri Orr, the executive director of the Park City Institute, an arts nonprofit, asked the pair what gives them hope.
Hogg said he is heartened by his conversations with pro-gun rights demonstrators outside venues where he and his fellow advocates speak, because he is able to find they agree on some things.
“We’re much bigger than our political parties,” he said.
Corin said she is most inspired by children as young as 10 advocating for causes like improving mental health resources for students and LGBT rights.
“You guys look at me and I seem young, but just looking at 11-year-olds wanting to do something and carry that through, it baffles me and it’s amazing,” she said. “But it’s sad that they have to do that in the first place.”