The Parkland Students, Four Years Later

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jack healy

Will you guys tell me about how you know each other?

madison zeltwanger

I know her from —

eden hebron

Elementary school. I went to private school from middle school, but I came —

brooke harrison

I’ve known Anabel since seventh grade. But I’ve only recently met Maddy.

anabel worthington

We’ve known each other since fifth grade.

brooke harrison

I’ve known you since middle school.

madison zeltwanger

About education —

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

victoria alvarez

Education for women —

eden hebron

Taxing for FSA.

anabel worthington

Just so many.

madison zeltwanger

We were —

anabel worthington

All of them were argumentative, though.

madison zeltwanger

Yeah. And our desks normally aren’t in row — or in groups. They’re normally in rows.

anabel worthington

They’re usually in rows —

jack healy

Oh, OK.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

madison zeltwanger

Which honestly, I think, was a blessing because it was a lot easier to run —

eden hebron

Can we just know where my desk is, what usually is right there.

madison zeltwanger

I know. No, but my desk was right in front of the door. That’s why I saw the gun, because when I looked up —

eden hebron

I saw him walking by.

madison zeltwanger

You did? I didn’t see —

anabel worthington

I saw a shadow —

madison zeltwanger

Because I was —

eden hebron

I saw his feet or something. I don’t know —

madison zeltwanger

He was wearing a hoodie. That’s why —

eden hebron

And I heard — [AUDIO FADES OUT]

victoria alvarez

— while I was writing my essay. And then we heard the gunshots. It was like — it was one after another. It was like [TRILLS TONGUE]:. And so in my head, I thought, like, oh, like, firecrackers, you know. Nice.

jack healy

Had anyone ever set off firecrackers in the school before?

victoria alvarez

No. But I just figured. I was like, OK like firecrackers. And then I remember the glass door breaking. And for some reason, I ended up — like, I don’t remember this part. It’s kind of blurry, but I remember being on the floor.

I want to say I heard like a crack of like a shell. And I was like, oh. I remember, like, opening my eyes. I was on the other side of the door. I was holding the Teddy bear I had gotten. And then I guess that’s when it came in. And I realized what was happening.

madison zeltwanger

And I remember putting my hands over my head like a tornado drill, just because I didn’t want any glass or anything hitting me. Because you can — you can feel the stuff falling onto you.

eden hebron

You could smell it in the air.

jack healy

OK.

madison zeltwanger

The only — I cannot describe the smell. It wasn’t like a fire. It wasn’t like anything —

eden hebron

It was gunpowder.

victoria alvarez

Gunpowder.

maddy

Gunpowder has a smell.

madison zeltwanger

When you smelt it, you knew, that’s a gun. That’s a gun. And there was a lot of smoke. I can’t even —

group

It was so much.

madison zeltwanger

I can’t even explain it.

brooke harrison

It was hard to breath. It was definitely

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

eden hebron

It was like a big cloud.

victoria alvarez

And if you saw my bag —

madison zeltwanger

It was, like, cloudy.

victoria alvarez

— now that we got them back, my bag was a black Tory Birch purse. There’s white all over it.

madison zeltwanger

All over it.

eden hebron

Same.

victoria alvarez

I had just got a new purse.

madison zeltwanger

It’s like dust. You can tell that it’s gunpowder.

maddy

Does anyone have a bullet hole in their backpack? Because I do.

madison zeltwanger

Really?

maddy

I have a bullet hole my backpack.

anabel worthington

You do?

eden hebron

Can I see it?

maddy

Yeah. [GASPING]

eden hebron

Oh, my gosh. Wow.

madison zeltwanger

But there’s no bullet in there, right?

maddy

No.

madison zeltwanger

Like, bullet casing or anything.

maddy

It was really fast.

madison zeltwanger

If there was —

anabel worthington

That’s terrible.

victoria alvarez

Each —

jack healy

Yeah, yeah.

madison zeltwanger

Yeah, so you can go first, Victoria.

victoria alvarez

OK. So basically, this is where I was sitting. I was facing the door. Elissa was facing me. And then —

eden hebron

Ms. Powers, I guess, had some kind of cardboard. So I kind of took that and put it over my face.

jack healy

To try to disguise you —

eden hebron

I don’t know if it did anything. But I thought that —

jack healy

Just to like shield —

eden hebron

I just thought that if he saw my eyes, he would shoot me, because I was right across the door. So I’m like, I have to cover myself.

madison zeltwanger

I feel like my whole world was spinning, and everything was going in slow motion, so that the shots were just like, boom, boom, boom. But they were so loud.

victoria alvarez

You know when you — it’s like when you’re watching a movie, and you see it happening, but you’re not there. That’s exactly what it felt like.

madison zeltwanger

It’s like an out of body experience.

victoria alvarez

That’s exactly what —

maddy

I was, like, screaming.

victoria alvarez

That’s not my school.

madison zeltwanger

When I — I thought about this, about being in a school shooting. And the one thing that I’ve always said that I would do is text my mom, I love you. And I’m — like, thank you for everything. And I was so mad at everything, that I wasn’t going to be able to get to do that, and I was going to die and not let my mom know that I loved her.

eden hebron

And then she shoots through our door, and there’s glass, like, all over, like, in front of me. And then I just hear, like, a few shots happen over here, and then I see Elissa, and she’s just, like, standing like this. And then she, like, falls back, and then — and then goes silent. [SNIFFLES]

And I’m, like, screaming — and I’m, like, screaming her name.

And then she, like, didn’t answer.

victoria alvarez

When the SWAT team went into the —

madison zeltwanger

I was like —

victoria alvarez

Entered the room next door —

madison zeltwanger

Cover me —

anabel worthington

They were yelling.

victoria alvarez

I thought they were next door they were yelling, like, oh, like, injured, like, blah, blah, blah, and then, get out. They were yelling at the class next door. And I remember holding my Teddy bear screaming, like, please come get us, please come get us. Please come get us. Please come get us.

Yeah, I remember praying out loud. And it took hours, I felt like hours, for them to go from that classroom to ours.

madison zeltwanger

I remember Sigrid telling me, put your hands over your head.

Yeah.

eden hebron

I didn’t do that.

madison zeltwanger

I just remember — just from seeing, like, all these mass shootings and people running out with their hands up, i didn’t want to be —

brooke harrison

Yeah, I but my hands over my head, too.

madison zeltwanger

— the person who they thought was — I know that it’s — but I just put my hands up.

anabel worthington

I didn’t do that.

madison zeltwanger

And I ran. That’s when I ran.

anabel worthington

And so, that’s where I just remember, like, running for my life.

eden hebron

Yes. And did you see the dogs?

madison zeltwanger

My legs hurt.

victoria alvarez

I remember seeing the dogs barking. And then that’s when it kicked in. And I was like, let me get out of here. And I ran. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

I ran from school to Parkland Golf.

eden hebron

That’s so far.

victoria alvarez

It’s so far.

jack healy

That is far, yeah.

victoria alvarez

It’s really far. I was in jeans, Vans.

maddy

I was in a sweater. They took it as evidence

anabel worthington

I remember we all looked good for that day because it was Valentine’s Day.

victoria alvarez

I looked so good.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

And they took my stuff.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

anabel worthington

They literally took, like, my favorite outfit for evidence because there was blood on them.

victoria alvarez

I was wearing —

madison zeltwanger

Oh, I didn’t give them my stuff.

victoria alvarez

Oh, I —

eden hebron

Me, neither.

victoria alvarez

I went home, I washed my Teddy bear. They asked me, you got blood on anything? I said no.

maddy

I know. I didn’t give anything.

brooke harrison

I tried to say no, but then my parents were like, yeah, like, it’s in the wash. Let me see if there’s blood. So I was like —

victoria alvarez

The Teddy bear was the only thing I got out of that class with. It was the only thing I was going to keep. Mm-mm.

madison zeltwanger

We were going to another viewing after we had two funerals that morning and then a viewing for Luke. And then we were going to Gina’s viewing, what we thought was Gina’s viewing. But instead, we walked in, my best friend and I, we walked in with our moms, and they — it was kind of weird because my — we were all wearing the pins with the ribbons.

And they asked what the ribbons are for and we were like, OK, this one’s for Jamie, and this one’s for Gina, and this one’s for Stoneman Douglas in general. And so they were like, oh, that’s cool. And then so we walked into the funeral home, and they handed us this card. And we were expecting to see, like, Gina’s face on it. But it was this guy named Ron — Ronald. And this old guy [INAUDIBLE] a picture.

And we were like, OK, that’s not Gina.

brooke harrison

Because you went to the wrong thing?

madison zeltwanger

Yeah. And so we figured out that it was the wrong guy.

jack healy

So now you get to celebrate Ronald.

madison zeltwanger

Yeah.

So we were like, thanks, Ron, for making us laugh.

brooke harrison

Wait, did you see him?

brooke harrison

That’s all they’re saying to me, too. They’re like, it’s fine. It’s going to be fine.

maddy

Everything you’re feeling is perfectly normal.

victoria alvarez

I feel broken. Like, I feel defeated.

eden hebron

Yeah, me, too.

victoria alvarez

Like, that’s not — like, it’s not — right now in my mind, it’s not going to be fine. I can never get over the feeling of being broken.

anabel worthington

I’m never going to be OK.

brooke harrison

They don’t — like, all of us have lost our friends and classmates, and they’re just like, no, it’s normal. It’s fine. But it’s not fine.

anabel worthington

It’s not fine. Nothing about this is fine.

eden hebron

Grief is one thing, but I’m traumatized.

victoria alvarez

This is trauma.

anabel worthington

Same. We went through trauma.

victoria alvarez

It’s PTSD.

anabel worthington

Maybe PTSD.

victoria alvarez

Especially for what we went through.

eden hebron

PTSD takes 30 days to set in.

victoria alvarez

We literally saw people die.

madison zeltwanger

I can’t close my eyes without looking up and seeing the gun.

anabel worthington

Like, seeing Elissa’s body.

victoria alvarez

My mind is seeing Alex and the bullet holes through the wall. I see it happening in slow motion over —

[AUDIO FADES OUT]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

jack healy

How are you feeling about going back tomorrow?

eden hebron

I don’t think I’m going to go.

maddy

I’m so scared.

brooke harrison

I’m excited.

maddy

I’m happy because I want to see my friends I haven’t seen since them.

anabel worthington

I’m excited to see my friends, but I’m so scared to go back there.

madison zeltwanger

Yeah, right? It’s a part of the healing process.

eden hebron

I can’t go.

madison zeltwanger

At the same time, I don’t feel ready —

victoria alvarez

I’m not ready.

madison zeltwanger

— to go back. But there’s — I don’t know if I’m ever going to feel ready to go back.

victoria alvarez

So you might as well just get it over with. Get it over with and rip the Band-Aid off.

maddy

I’m scared. Like, I’m excited — like, I’m desperate to see all my friends, but, like, I’m scared.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

denise harrison

Do you want to take this in the car?

brooke harrison

Mm-hmm.

denise harrison

So normally, we would try — we try to leave by 7:20, We’ve been leaving at 7:30 for a 7:40 start. But you know, we do live close. But yeah, Brooke skids in at the last minute. But we’re not going to do that today.

jack healy

Yeah. Yeah.

brooke harrison

My first —

denise harrison

That’s your normal —

brooke harrison

My first period teachers, though, on each day don’t care, though. So it sounds really bad, but like —

brooke harrison

Oh, mom, can I have $5? Because you know how I told you Eden was making like the necklaces?

denise harrison

Yes.

brooke harrison

So this girl, Eden — not the Eden who came here, a different Eden. She’s making these really cool necklaces that have a burgundy stone in it and two silver stones inside for Douglas. And they’re $5, and they’re so pretty. So I want — she’s donating it all to the victims fund.

jack healy

Oh, nice.

brooke harrison

and I wanted to get one.

brooke harrison

Do you want me to sit in the back with you?

jack healy

No, no, no, no, no, sit in the front. Yeah, absolutely.

jack healy

Oh, no.

brooke harrison

Oh, [INAUDIBLE].

denise harrison

OK. You had bacon.

brooke harrison

I had bacon. It’s fine.

jack healy

Five-second rule.

How do you feel? Are you excited? Are you nervous?

brooke harrison

I’m very excited just because I haven’t seen just so many people since the incident. So I’m just happy to give hugs to everyone.

And then I’m also kind of nervous because I feel like if I see something that reminds me of Elena, I’m going to cry. Or if during lunch, like, where I see where she used to sit — because she used to sit at the same spot.

denise harrison

Oh, it’s making me sad.

brooke harrison

Mom, please don’t cry.

denise harrison

No.

brooke harrison

I think she’s cried more than me.

denise harrison

OK. So you’re going to go to the cafeteria, get your schedule.

brooke harrison

Yeah.

denise harrison

Right. Text me or call me if you need to.

brooke harrison

Was —

clare toeniskoetter

Was there ever a day when it felt normal, ever, like in your whole last school year?

brooke harrison

It kind of never feels normal.

speaker 1

Yeah, I know.

brooke harrison

But like, we have a new normal. I feel like my normal is —

clare toeniskoetter

Yeah.

brooke harrison

I just feel, like, so guilty —

speaker 2

I know. Just like getting up every day. Like, sometimes.

brooke harrison

Yeah. Like, they were supposed to be here. Like, that whole thing wasn’t supposed to happen.

brooke harrison

Hi.

clare toeniskoetter

Yeah. Hi, Brooke. How’s it going?

brooke harrison

It’s going good. How about you?

clare toeniskoetter

Good. Good, good. Thank you for making time to chat.

brooke harrison

Oh, no problem.

clare toeniskoetter

So Brooke, tell me a little bit about your life now. What’s it like?

brooke harrison

Well, I am now a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. And I couldn’t be happier, really. It’s the happiest I’ve been, like, in a really long time. And it was my number one choice of school, and I love it. I love every second of it.

clare toeniskoetter

And is any part of that love related to getting away from the dark history that’s attached to Parkland?

brooke harrison

Oh, it definitely is. I think everyone imagines graduating high school — like, when you’re a teenager you’re like, oh, I can’t wait to be independent. But for me, it felt like, oh, my god, like, I’m finally free from this place that has caused me so much pain and torment, and who has drastically affected my mental health.

I knew for a fact that for college, I needed to get away and have my own space and be in a place where that couldn’t really necessarily follow me completely, if that makes sense.

clare toeniskoetter

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Has it followed you?

brooke harrison

In ways. Like, I had to celebrate my first anniversary without my family or without being in my hometown in college. But my roommate is also from Douglas. So we both got to be there for each other. And it’s been nice to have someone there for me who I know is going to give me that comfort that I need in that moment.

clare toeniskoetter

And what’s it like at college? I’m just curious, is being from Parkland, is that part of your identity? Is it something people know about you? Or is that more private?

brooke harrison

It’s one of those things where if I decide that you’re going to be someone that I get close to, that it’s something I have to share. And that’s something that I’ve kind of struggled with ever since the shooting happened, that realization that with every close friendship I want to have or relationship or partnership I want to have in the future, that is something I have to share with them for them to truly know me and understand me.

clare toeniskoetter

Why is that, Brooke? Why do you want people to know?

brooke harrison

Well, just from a mental health standpoint, I have just like sometimes really bad PTSD. And I do have anxiety attacks. And sometimes I do go into miniature depression episodes, like, when the school shooting comes up, that will last for a couple of days.

And also, it is kind of like a trigger warning as well. Like maybe if a shooting just happened, maybe if I tell you that, you’d think twice before you’re just talking about it all the time.

clare toeniskoetter

And what’s it been like? Of course, there, unfortunately, have been more shootings in the past four and a half years. What’s it been like for you to live through these shootings like Uvalde recently?

brooke harrison

It just feels like a slap in the face, to be honest. Like, I’m always sad every time, because I remember like whether it was to live through that every day. Like, I can remember it literally like it was yesterday. And especially when you see all the people who’s died, like their families, and especially when it’s kids, like young, young kids, like elementary school, it just breaks your heart.

And it feels like no matter what we do, nothing ever really changes. And it is just like the biggest slap in the face. And it is constantly retriggering, especially when I see the same failures that I see in my high school, where cops aren’t going in to help, and they’re telling people to stay back and just not doing their jobs. I just get very angry. It’s completely heartbreaking.

clare toeniskoetter

Brooke, do you stay in touch with your classmates from Stoneman Douglas?

brooke harrison

To be honest, no. The only time that we really talk to each other is we have this group chat on Snapchat. And every anniversary, or even sometimes when there’s like a shooting that’s all over the news, we’ll reach out to each other and be like, love you guys, hope you’re all doing OK. But constantly in touch, no.

clare toeniskoetter

The trial of the shooter is ongoing. What has that been like for you?

brooke harrison

It’s been very hard. I’ve watched all of the trial videos from people that had been in my classroom. And that was unbelievably hard to watch because, especially like so many of them were saying, things that I have vivid in my memory as well. And so it’s very hard to have someone else basically tell your memories back to you but through their own lens.

Like, I had a full mental breakdown about it, that we still have to deal with this, and especially felt so bad everyone in that room had to look at the shooter and make eye contact with him. But some of them even had to point him out in the room and fully acknowledge that man. And I thought I was going to have to do it.

And a wave of relief went through me like when I realized I didn’t have to. But then what happens when you’re in this kind of connected thing with people is that you realize if you’re not doing something, that someone else is. Like, if I’m not going to that rally, then they are. If I’m not giving this interview, they are. If I’m not going on this trial, they are.

clare toeniskoetter

And what does that feel like?

brooke harrison

Honestly, it’s still like survivor’s guilt. Or like, there’s really just general guilt because you realize, well, you get a second to breathe and to kind of be at peace, and not put yourself through something extremely triggering and traumatic. They do.

clare toeniskoetter

So even though all the students who witnessed that day have moved on, it’s still with all of them.

brooke harrison

Oh, 1,000 percent. And I think sadly, it’s going to be something that’s with us for the rest of our lives. And I think as we get older, we’ll just learn how to process it and deal with it, and what how to manage it better. But I think it’s something that’s with us for forever, because how could it not be?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

While the shooting definitely did shape me, I’m so much more than that horrible event. I am so much more than those — like, survivor and a statistic. I am my own person in general. And I think not being constantly surrounded by that has really reflected that to me, that I am my own person, and that what happened to me and my community is not me.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

clare toeniskoetter

Thank you, Brooke.

brooke harrison

Aw, anytime.

clare toeniskoetter

Have a good one.

brooke harrison

You, too. Bye.

clare toeniskoetter

Bye. [CALL ENDS]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

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