For­ever changed by 6 aw­ful min­utes

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - John Ba­con

Two of the teenagers are headed to Har­vard. Two of the adults are fight­ing for their jobs. But all who rose to promi­nence in the painful hours and days af­ter a gun­man’s bru­tal ram­page at a Florida high school one year ago have been for­ever trans­formed.

On Valen­tine’s Day in 2018, au­thor­i­ties say, Niko­las Cruz walked into the fresh­man build­ing at sprawl­ing Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School with a bag con­tain­ing, among other things, a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle. The en­su­ing num­bers were ex­cru­ci­at­ing: six min­utes of

The shoot­ings “started a jour­ney that we are still wit­ness­ing. These kids are still out there, and they have made change.”

Kris Brown Pres­i­dent of the Brady Cam­paign to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence

shoot­ing, more than 100 rounds fired, 17 stu­dents and staff killed and 17 wounded. Cruz, who had been ex­pelled from the school the year be­fore, walked away and was ar­rested more than an hour later. Stu­dents David Hogg, Emma Gon­za­lez, Ja­clyn Corin and Alex Wind were among a group who would gather at the home of Cameron Kasky, de­ter­mined to en­sure that the deaths of their class­mates and friends would not be for­got­ten.

Thus, the “Never Again MSD” move­ment was born. The group was a cru­cial or­ga­nizer of the Na­tional School Walk­out of March 14 and, 10 days later, the March for Our Lives that drew more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple across the na­tion to ral­lies for safe schools and an end to gun vi­o­lence.

The teens haven’t stopped work­ing, urg­ing young peo­ple to reg­is­ter and vote even though some of the stu­dents are barely old enough to vote them­selves. They’ve been lob­by­ing for tighter re­stric­tions on firearms and chal­leng­ing the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and the politi­cians it sup­ports.

“I’ll al­ways care about the is­sues that face our na­tion,” Kasky told USA TO­DAY. “And I will al­ways feel ded­i­cated to help­ing play a part in solv­ing them.”

Gon­za­lez’s mother, Beth, told “60 Min­utes” her daugh­ter was a nor­mal high school se­nior. Then came the shoot­ing. “It’s like she built her­self a pair of wings out of balsa wood and duct tape and jumped off a build­ing. And we’re just, like, run­ning along be­neath her with a net, which she doesn’t want or think that she needs.”

Last week, Kasky at­tended the State of the Union ad­dress and a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on gun vi­o­lence. Hogg has of­fered to speak on gun vi­o­lence at any high school or col­lege that wants him. Corin has pro­moted a March for Our Lives New Jer­sey to fight an ef­fort to put in armed of­fi­cers in Chatham schools.

While the stu­dents shine, lo­cal of­fi­cials strug­gle. The Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion, set up to ex­am­ine the tragedy, crit­i­cized Broward County Sher­iff Scott Is­rael for a pol­icy that deputies “may” con­front ac­tive shoot­ers rather than “shall” do so. Deputy Scot Peter­son, the school re­source of­fi­cer and first law en­force­ment on the scene, was among those who did not. School ad­min­is­tra­tors, led by Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Run­cie, also drew scru­tiny.

The school will mark the an­niver­sary Thurs­day with a Day of Ser­vice and Love. Stu­dents will be serv­ing break­fast to lo­cal first re­spon­ders and pack­ing meals for un­der­nour­ished chil­dren. Men­tal health ex­perts and ther­apy dogs will be there. At 10:17 a.m., the en­tire district and the com­mu­nity is asked to ob­serve a mo­ment of si­lence to honor the 17 who lost their lives.

The shoot­ings “started a jour­ney that we are still wit­ness­ing,” said Kris Brown, pres­i­dent of the Brady Cam­paign to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence. “These kids are still out there, and they have made change.”

A look at some of the peo­ple thrust into the spot­light by the tragedy:

Cameron Kasky

Kasky was a ju­nior “the­ater kid” who had just left a drama class when the car­nage be­gan. His stature grew a week af­ter the shoot­ing when, dur­ing a CNN-hosted town hall, he grilled Florida Repub­li­can Sen. Marco Ru­bio for his close ties to the NRA. “Sen. Ru­bio, it’s hard to look at you and not look down a bar­rel of an AR-15 and not look at Niko­las Cruz,” he said.

But months later Kasky grew to re­gret his treat­ment of the se­na­tor. Kasky says he wants to en­cour­age bi­par­ti­san­ship. “If it weren’t for the aw­ful mis­takes I’ve made and the many things I re­gret, I don’t know if I would’ve ever grown up or learned to hold my­self ac­count­able for my ac­tions,” Kasky re­cently tweeted.

Kasky shrugs off his ef­forts: “Can ac­tivism be the act of sim­ply tweet­ing? Hash­tag-driven sol­i­dar­ity?”

As for his fu­ture, Kasky said, he is “re­ally try­ing to get into col­leges for next year. God knows if it’ll work.”

Emma Gon­za­lez

Gon­za­lez, 19, was a se­nior and pres­i­dent of the school’s Gay-Straight Al­liance. She was in the au­di­to­rium when Cruz struck – hid­ing, com­fort­ing fel­low stu­dents and search­ing the In­ter­net for up­dates un­til au­thor­i­ties crashed in and or­dered them to flee. Gon­za­lez rock­eted to fame af­ter tak­ing on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the NRA, politi­cians and foes of stricter gun laws in an elec­tri­fy­ing speech in Fort Laud­erdale days af­ter the shoot­ing.

“We call B.S.” was her re­cur­ring theme at the rally, tak­ing aim at those who say noth­ing could have pre­vented the at­tack, or that stricter gun laws won’t help or that good guys need guns to stop the bad guys. Her Twit­ter han­dle, @Em­ma4Change, has more than 1.6 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

Gon­za­lez, now at­tend­ing New Col­lege of Florida, was hon­ored by Va­ri­ety as one of its five 2018 Power of Women. But the fame isn’t the big­gest change in her life since the shoot­ing, she told the magazine. “There are al­ways mo­ments in the day when I get hit with a sad­ness about the peo­ple who have been lost in this tragedy,” she said. “That has di­rectly af­fected me.”

David Hogg

Hogg was a se­nior at the school, un­sure whether to pur­sue a ca­reer as an en­gi­neer or a jour­nal­ist. He had an in­tern­ship at the lo­cal pa­per, the South Florida Sun-Sen­tinel. He crouched in a dark class­room when the shoot­ing started, then waited for a SWAT team to es­cort him and oth­ers to safety. While wait­ing, he turned on his phone’s video recorder and nar­rated the events.

Later, he went back to the school and be­gan re­count­ing the tragedy to the pha­lanx of TV crews that had de­scended on Park­land. He urged the me­dia not to al­low Park­land to be­come just one more mass shoot­ing. He was on “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica” the next day, and al­ready his pitch for safer schools and gun con­trol was sharp­en­ing.

Hogg has writ­ten a book with his younger sis­ter Lau­ren, “#Nev­erA­gain: A New Gen­er­a­tion Draws the Line.” In the months af­ter the shoot­ing, Hogg failed to gain ad­mis­sion to UCLA and a few other top schools, and he clashed with the NRA and con­ser­va­tive broad­cast­ers. He took a gap year to fight for youth ac­tivism and gun con­trol, and he says will en­roll at Har­vard in the fall.

Ja­clyn Corin

Corin, pres­i­dent of the school’s ju­nior class, was hid­ing in a class­room dur­ing the tragedy that would take the life of her good friend Joaquin Oliver. Corin helped drive a so­cial me­dia cam­paign us­ing the hash­tag #WhatIf aimed at end­ing gun vi­o­lence. Her own #WhatIf video drew more than 1.5 mil­lion views. She also was prime or­ga­nizer of a “light­ning strike” bus trip to the state Capi­tol, six days af­ter the shoot­ing, that saw scores of Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas stu­dents rally for tighter gun laws.

Corin con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate. She will grad­u­ate in the spring and says she will at­tend Har­vard in the fall.

Alex Wind

Wind was a ju­nior and drama club mem­ber who was among the first stu­dents to call out the pres­i­dent. That af­ter­noon, when Trump tweeted con­do­lences to fam­i­lies, Wind re­sponded, “Make stricter gun laws then.”

Wind made a splash days later when he sang the na­tional an­them as part of a trib­ute to the vic­tims at a Miami Heat basketball game. Now a se­nior, Wind re­cently joined other stu­dents in a book co-writ­ten by the March for Our Lives founders called “Glim­mer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Move­ment.”

“We want to be the ones who tell the story be­cause we were there,” he said. “We know what hap­pened. No one else.”

Niko­las Cruz

Adopted at birth, Cruz, now 20, was or­phaned when his mother died three months be­fore the at­tack. School records ob­tained by the USA TO­DAY Net­work show Cruz had a his­tory of prob­lems: More than a dozen school of­fi­cials, teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors cited Cruz in at least 41 dis­ci­plinary in­ci­dents from May 2012 to Jan­uary 2017.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, Cruz ex­ited the school among the flee­ing stu­dents. He walked to a Wal­mart, bought a soda at a Sub­way, then walked to a McDon­ald’s. He was walk­ing along a street when he was ar­rested, more than an hour af­ter the mas­sacre.

Cruz is be­ing held with­out bail on 17 counts of pre­med­i­tated mur­der and other charges that could re­sult in the death penalty. De­fense lawyers have ac­knowl­edged that Cruz was the killer and have fo­cused on avoid­ing ex­e­cu­tion.

Trou­ble has fol­lowed him to jail – Cruz was charged in Novem­ber with at­tack­ing a guard. Pub­lic de­fender Melisa McNeill has de­scribed Cruz as a “bro­ken child” who suf­fered from brain de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems and de­pres­sion but is re­morse­ful.

Scot Peter­son

Peter­son, a deputy sher­iff and the school re­source of­fi­cer, heard the gun­shots but drew crit­i­cism for fail­ing to con­front the shooter. Sher­iff Scott Is­rael called Peter­son a “dis­grace,” say­ing the deputy should have rushed in, “ad­dressed the killer, killed the killer.”

Peter­son said he at first be­lieved the shoot­ing was fire­crack­ers out­side the school and then could not de­ter­mine where the gun­shots were com­ing from. He said he fol­lowed pro­to­col by tak­ing up a tac­ti­cal po­si­tion out­side the build­ing. The com­mis­sion, how­ever, de­ter­mined that he lied – that Peter­son knew the shooter was in­side Build­ing 1200. Peter­son ul­ti­mately re­signed but has drawn crit­i­cism for col­lect­ing a pen­sion of more than $100,000 a year.

Scott Is­rael

Is­rael ap­peared calm and in con­trol in news con­fer­ences in the hours and days af­ter the shoot­ing. He lives in Park­land, and his kids grad­u­ated from the school. He drew pos­i­tive me­dia re­views af­ter call­ing for more strin­gent back­ground checks and tighter gun con­trol laws.

Is­rael, how­ever, drew scorn from some fam­i­lies for not re­quir­ing deputies to con­front ac­tive shoot­ers. Is­rael said he had elim­i­nated the pol­icy re­quir­ing such ac­tion be­cause he didn’t want deputies charg­ing into “sui­cide mis­sions.”

One of the first acts of Gov. Ron DeSan­tis af­ter tak­ing of­fice last month was sus­pend­ing Is­rael, ac­cus­ing him of “ne­glect of duty” and “in­com­pe­tence.” Is­rael has re­quested a hear­ing on his fate be­fore the state Se­nate.

Robert Run­cie

Run­cie, the schools su­per­in­ten­dent, also drew fire from fam­i­lies of the vic­tims and the pub­lic safety com­mis­sion for pos­si­bly lax se­cu­rity on cam­pus and a PROM­ISE pro­gram de­signed to pre­vent some young vi­o­la­tors from get­ting po­lice records.

Last week Run­cie met with par­ents at the school amid crit­i­cism for keep­ing the meet­ing closed to the pub­lic – and even to mem­bers of the school board.

Run­cie will keep his job for now. DeSan­tis said last month that he doesn’t have the power to re­move him. But be­fore Gov. Rick Scott left of­fice in Jan­uary, he ap­pointed An­drew Pol­lack – whose daugh­ter, Meadow, was killed in the at­tack – to the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Pol­lack has vowed to drive Run­cie from of­fice.

Run­cie has held his ground. And he re­cently out­lined plans to im­ple­ment key safety rec­om­men­da­tions.

“There is a tremen­dous amount of work that has taken place across the District fo­cused on safety and se­cu­rity,” he said. “For the 17 stu­dents and staff who died, the 17 who were in­jured, and the 271,000 stu­dents we ed­u­cate every day, we won’t rest un­til we have the safest school district in the state of Florida.”


Stu­dents Emma Gon­za­lez, top left, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg and Alex Wind were de­ter­mined that their fallen friends and class­mates would not be for­got­ten.


Vis­i­tors pay their re­spects at memo­ri­als out­side Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla., on Feb. 25, 2018, as the school pre­pared to re­open af­ter a mass shoot­ing two weeks ear­lier.

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