DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Student survivors of Florida’s high school shooting took their message calling for greater gun safety measures abroad for the first time on Saturday, sharing with educational professionals from around the world their frightening experience.
The Feb. 14 attack that killed 17 people, 14 of them students, became one of the deadliest schools shootings in U.S. history. The attack was carried out by a former student wielding an assault-style rifle who strode into one of the school buildings and opened fire.
Florida student survivors Suzanna Barna, Kevin Trejos and Lewis Mizen each wore a red ribbon pinned on their suits in honor of the victims as they talked about their experience and the action they are taking to push for stricter gun safety measures. They spoke in Dubai at the Global Education and Skills Forum that coincides with the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, awarded to one outstanding teacher from around the world each year.
“It was scary. There was people crying. We didn’t know where the shooter was. We didn’t know if he was coming to our classroom next,” Trejos said.
“We need to improve school safety,” he added, saying that the students are not trying to ban guns “because we understand it’s practically impossible to do,” but are working to limit the accessibility of guns to criminals or potential criminals.
Like other school shootings before it, the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has renewed the national debate on gun control and set off a wave of calls demanding action on gun violence. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of students across the U.S. walked out of their classrooms on to demand action from lawmakers on gun violence and school safety.
“The idea that there is protocol in place to protect kids, not to prevent it from happening … it’s something that shouldn’t ever happen. It’s something that has to stop,” Mizen told the audience in Dubai. “Stop it before it happens. Don’t prepare for when it does.”
Students are planning a “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington next Saturday, and since the shooting have taken trips to the U.S. capital and the Florida capital of Tallahassee to confront lawmakers. In response, some major U.S. retailers have put curbs on the sale of assault-style rifles and will no longer sell firearms to people younger than 21.
The Florida shooting was the latest in an era of school massacres that began with a shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 13 people. The country’s deadliest school shooting killed 20 children in first grade and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
“It’s so important to be educated and to be educated in a productive sense is to feel safe at school,” Barna said. “No child should ever have to go through what we did – no person in general.”