PARKLAND, Fla. ― A sea of candlelight filled the Pine Trails Park amphitheater Thursday night as thousands of students, parents, teachers and community members attempted to make sense of the senseless.
The vigil occurred just one day after a deadly school shooting left 17 people ― primarily children ― dead. On Wednesday, a gunman stormed into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and began firing seemingly indiscriminately, killing and wounding dozens. Police captured the suspect, a 19-year-old former student.
Students embraced one another in heartbreak at the vigil, sobbing as they listened to speakers and found solace in each other.
But the same children learning to deal with an unspeakable horror didn’t mince words about how this tragedy could have been prevented: gun control.
“No more guns! No more guns!” a sea of chants began at one point, led by students as furious as they were heartbroken.
Arianna Ali, a 17-year-old junior, heard the gunshots and screams of her fellow classmates. She and other students first thought it may have been a fire, she said.
“We started running to the auditorium, and that’s when I heard the gunshots and the screaming,” Ali told HuffPost. “My class just scattered. Me and my best friend ran into my English teacher’s class and hid in the corner for about 35 minutes, but it felt like hours.”
When asked what could have prevented the tragedy, Ali didn’t hesitate.
“Stricter gun laws,” she said. “Especially in Florida, because we have the most relaxed laws.”
Parents and students alike have called for President Donald Trump to enact better gun control laws, but so far, Trump has only managed to disparage the mentally ill and seemingly place blame on students for not knowing the shooter “was a big problem.” He’s made no mention of guns.
Speakers at the vigil included Chicago Cubs player Anthony Rizzo, who graduated from the high school.
“Look, I’m a baseball player, but I’m also an American,” Rizzo said. “I’m a Floridian. I’m a Parklander for life. And while I don’t have all the answers, I know that something has to change before this is visited on another community and another community and another community.”
Patricia Jacomini, 42, said she escaped from Brazil with her children five years ago after her father was murdered due to violence. Her two daughters and son lost friends in Wednesday’s shooting, she said.
“My daughter, she was all night trying to contact [her friend] since yesterday afternoon,” Jacomini told HuffPost. “And now she found out he was dead.”
Her daughter sat by her side, quietly crying. She declined to be interviewed.
What could have prevented this tragedy?
“Gun control, absolutely” Jacomini said. “It’s unbelievable that a 19-year-old was able to purchase this type of gun.”
Ali, the 17-year-old, said she didn’t sleep the previous night. Eventually, she crawled into bed with her mother.
“I didn’t sleep either,” Ali’s mother, Donna, said with a sad laugh.