PARKLAND, Florida — They’ve had enough.
The simple statement was the rallying cry from students on Wednesday as students stood up in their classrooms and walked out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one month after a gunman killed 17 of their fellow students and teachers.
From Wall Street to Capitol Hill — Columbine to Sandy Hook — students, parents, educators, politicians across the United States staged school walkouts in solidarity with students of Stoneman Douglas emboldened by a growing protest movement over gun violence.
Wednesday’s walkouts come 10 days before major protests in Washington, D.C. organized by students from the Parkland high school is set to occur. Thousands of students and community residents from Stoneman Douglas, along with middle school students from nearby West Glades Middle School, marched to Pine Trails Park. The same spot where thousands of residents attended a candlelight vigil the day after the shooting.
The Daily Beast spoke with several Stoneman Douglas students during the walkout — two were inside the 1200 building when the bullets started flying.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been a month, it feels like it was just last week,” said Rhianna, a 14-year-old freshman told The Daily Beast. “I don’t feel safe.”
When Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel ordered deputies to carry AR-15 rifles in order to protect students returning to class last month, Rhianna says she broke down crying.
One month ago, Rhianna was sitting in her fourth period class, English One Honors, room 1212 in the 1200 building.
At 2:19 p.m., Nikolas Cruz entered the east stairwell of Building 12, with a rifle inside a black soft case. Cruz fired into four different classrooms on the first floor of Building 12, including the one next door to Rhianna’s classroom.
“Our door was unlocked, and he [Cruz] came up and banged on the door, and yelled, ‘He’s coming for me. Let me in,’ and then he shot at our door and the walls...my friends saw him standing at the door trying to get us to open it.”
“I don’t know why he just didn’t try opening the door, because it was unlocked.”
An hour earlier, Rhianna was in her JROTC classroom with two of her fellow platoon members that would be taken from Rhianna’s young life —14-year-old Cadet Cpl. Alaina Petty and 15-year-old Cadet Pfc. Peter Wang.
Just before the shooting during fourth period, Rhianna said she was taking her exam for promotion to cadet corporal along with Wang. Petty was instructing her platoon in how to lead a military formation as a cadet corporal.
Wang and Rhianna passed their corporal’s exam, they were set to be promoted together last month on February 22. Wang and Petty were both gunned down on Feb. 14.
“Peter [Wang] would always come into class telling jokes...or wearing weird shoes, like on one shoe it said ‘Peter’ and on the other show it said ‘Wang’” said Rhianna. “Alaina [Petty] was always smiling, she was always happy and telling jokes...I never once saw her upset...she was professional when she needed to be.”
Rhianna said that after she learned Cruz was wearing his Army JROTC polo t-shirt while gunning down her classmates, she hasn’t been able to bring herself to wearing hers anymore.
Nadia, a 15-year-old freshman, told The Daily Beast she remembers running past dead bodies laying in the hallways of Building 12 a month ago. Today, she said a teacher, whose classroom received a barrage of gunfire would not be returning to teach at Stoneman Douglas.
“There’s a lot of damage in her class. Lives lost, bullet holes, blood stains. She came back for a few days and then took her kids to Disney to try and forget about it. She was strong enough to come the first few days back, but she couldn’t handle it anymore. She’s going to work somewhere else in the district,” Nadia said.
Both of the students agreed that arming teachers would not solve future mass shootings in schools. Instead, they would impose more of a risk to students and faculty.
On Monday, President Donald Trump reversed course on promises for tightening gun control measures opposed by the National Rifle Association, which include arming teachers. Last week, Betsy DeVos told The Daily Beast, “I think to say ‘arming teachers’ is an oversimplification and a mischaracterization, really. The concept is for those schools and those communities that opt to do this... is to have people who are expert in being able to defend, and having lots and lots of training in order to do so.”
Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg, who has risen to national prominence since the shooting, said DeVos was wrong and not qualified on the issue.
“Would a women need to pay $200 million dollars for her position? Can somebody that has never really been in a public school do a good job? Can someone who was born, not even with a silver, but a platinum spoon do a good job?” said Hogg.
Last week, DeVos traveled to Stoneman Douglas to visit with students and faculty on their first full day back to school; however, DeVos left both students and reporters frustrated after dodging questions from students and abruptly ending a press conference after receiving hardball questions from The Daily Beast and other media outlets.
“She’s trying to head up this committee, but there’s no deadlines. The administration is flip flopping and they basically have a revolving door of people coming in and out of bureaucracy and it’s making it impossible to do anything.”
“Personally, if Donald [Trump] fired somebody, I would want to see her fired,” Hogg said. “I suggest hiring former Attorney General Eric Holder, he has great experience in reducing the school to prison pipeline...he’s done it before and did an excellent job of it. Why not show bipartisan support, come across party lines and offer him the job?”
Hogg, and his sister, Lauren, said that everyday is a challenge for them and other Stoneman Douglas students, but that they derive their strength from the outpouring of support from the Parkland community and the nation.
“When you see all the banners that are put up around the school,” Lauren Hogg said. “You understand that this isn’t about Republican or Democrat. This is about humans.”