After the fatal school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, survivors of the massacre took a trip to Christchurch, New Zealand to meet with local youth activists and plant trees in their slain classmates' honor. Now, a week after dozens were killed in two fatal shootings at mosques in the city, CNN reports that the Parkland students reached out to the Christchurch victims' families to offer support and sympathy in the wake of the tragedy.
"I'm really upset that they have to know firsthand what's it's like to have people senselessly gunned down in their country," Kai Koerber, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, told CNN. "I'm really upset that the proliferation of white supremacist-based violence has reached a place that I thought was almost untouchable as far as gun violence is concerned."
According to Koerber, a letter-writing campaign to survivors and victims' families in Christchurch kicked off on Wednesday, five days after two separate shootings at mosques in the city left at least 50 people dead and another 50 injured. Koerber told CNN that the student body at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the Parkland shooting, and possibly South Florida Muslims, will be involved in the show of support.
In July, 28 students from Parkland visited the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, according to NBC News. The trip was intended both to help the students cope with the tragedy emotionally and, additionally, teach them how to sustain and grow the anti-gun violence movement that the Parkland survivors started after the shooting, a teacher who helped organize the trip told NBC News.
As part of their trip, the students met with members of New Zealand’s Student Volunteer Army, an organization that formed in 2011 to help Christchurch recover from a series of earthquakes that killed 185 people and decimated the city.
Like many countries, New Zealand has very low levels of gun violence compared to the United States. Parkland survivor Emily Wolfman told CNN that during her trip to the island country, she was approached by a student who apologized for being unable to fully understand what she and her peers were going through.
"The student was genuinely apologizing to us because he didn't know how to empathize with us," Emily said.
Some of the Parkland survivors who went on that trip kept in touch with the New Zealand students. After word of the Christchurch shootings spread, they started brainstorming in a group chat about the best way to support their friends on the other side of the globe, according to CNN.
“I was in disbelief that it was even happening. It’s so ironic that the whole reason we went on that trip was to cope with our tragedy, and they helped us find positive ways to deal with this,” 16-year-old Parkland survivor Rachel Taylor told NBC News. "And now, they’re in the exact same situation.”
One of Koerber's friends from the volunteer army knew one of the victims of the Christchurch shootings, according to CNN. He says that, in his letter to the New Zealanders, he plans to write in "big, voluminous detail about how I care about them, and how much I know they're going to bounce back because I know who they are."
"We got letters after our tragedy, that was something that really surprised us," Koerber told CNN. "It's something that really warmed the hearts of people in my community. I think it will warm the hearts of people in Christchurch as well."