The survivors and victims' loved ones from the Parkland, Florida school shooting gathered at the White House on Wednesday. They were there to attend a listening session with Donald Trump about the shooting that claimed the lives 17 people, both students and teachers, after a gunman opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Mourning parents, siblings, and friends of those who were gave powerful comments at the Parkland shooting listening session, demanding the president to take concrete and sensible steps at addressing gun violence in the United States.
The sentiment was unmistakable: Something has to change and lawmakers must take a stand to prevent a similar tragedy from taking place. The participants of the listening session were also joined by men and women who had lost their loved ones in former shootings, such as the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 and the Las Vegas shooting from 2017.
Students, teachers, mothers, fathers, and activists sat down to talk to Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Vice President Mike Pence. Pence told the participants that the members of the government were present to "hear your hearts today" while Trump said there would be an increased focus on "very strong background checks."
Pence added, "I encourage you to be candid and be vulnerable, and share with us not only your personal experience, but what it is you would have us to do."
1. "I'm Not Going To Sleep Until It Gets Fixed"
Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter Meadow Pollack in the Parkland shooting, did not mince his words. "I'm very angry that this happened, because it keeps happening. How many schools how many children have to get shot. It stops here with this administration and me. I'm not going to sleep until it gets fixed."
2. "Time Has Stood Still"
Sam Zeif, who studies at Stoneman Douglas, spoke of how he lost one of his closest friends in the shooting. "I lost a best friend. [He] was practically a brother. And I'm here to use my voice because I know he can't. And I know he's with me, cheering me on to be strong, but it's hard. And to feel like this, it doesn't even feel like a week. Time has stood still."
He added, "I can't feel comfortable in my country knowing that people have, will have, are ever going to feel like this. I want to feel safe at school."
3. "This Solution Isn't Going To Be A Singular Thing"
Ariana Klein, another student at Stoneman Douglas High School, urged the participants to "listen to the other points of view." She said, "We all need to realize that we all have different points of views, and this solution isn't going to be a singular thing. It's going to be multi-faceted."
4. "Born Into A World Where I Never Got To Experience Safety"
Fifteen-year-old Stoneman Douglas survivor Justin Gruber said, "I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace. There needs to be a significant change in this country because this has to never happen again."
5. "We, As A Country, Failed Our Children"
Speaking of his slain daughter, Andrew Pollack said, "We're here because my daughter has no voice. She was murdered last week and she was taken from us, shot nine times on the third floor. We, as a country, failed our children."
6. "It's Just Crazy"
Stoneman Douglas survivor Jonathan Blank said he was so affected by the shooting, he couldn't tell the difference between real and fake. "Everything seems fake. I don't even know what's going on. It's just crazy."
7. "We Will Not Be Silenced"
Sixteen-year-old Alphonso Calderon vowed not to be silenced. "Although we are just kids, we understand," Calderon said. "We are old enough to understand why a Senator cares about re-election. We are old enough to understand why someone might want to discredit us for their own political purposes. But we will not be silenced."
He added, "Trust me, I understand. I was in a closet locked for four hours with people I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it's like to text my parents goodbye, that I might not ever, ever get to see you again and say 'I love you.' I understand what it's like to fear for your life."
8. "What We're Doing Now Is Not Enough"
Eighteen-year-old Ryan Deitsch said, "I will say that I'm a high school senior. I do not know the exact course of action to take. I don't know exactly what needs to be done. I just know what we're doing now is not enough if I have to keep seeing neighbors die, if I have to keep seeing friends die."
On Tuesday, prior to meeting with the participants of the listening session, Trump said, "We cannot imagine the depth of their anguish, but we can pledge the strength of our resolve. And we must to do more to protect our children. We have to do more to protect our children." In the meantime, the Parkland shooting survivors continue to fight for sensible gun laws in the country.