PARKLAND, Florida—Two days after enduring a horrific school shooting, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and parents of the victims have one request for President Donald Trump: stay away.
“In my opinion I do not want Trump here at all,” Ameer Hussain, a 15-year-old freshman at the school told The Daily Beast.
Trump is scheduled to be at his resort in Mar-a-Lago this weekend. And reports on Friday said that he would be paying a visit to Parkland, Florida—the site of the shooting that claimed 17 lives on Wednesday while wounding 15 others—to, in his words, “meet with some of the bravest people on earth.”
It’s common for presidents to visit the sites of national tragedies and, while there, meet with the affected. But Trump is neither a conventional president nor one whom many people here particularly want to see.
Hussain imagined that Trump would “use this event to make himself look better politically.”
“It’s not meaningful,” he added. “He’s the president and he should be speaking on what he’s going to do to make it better for next time. My friend group, Hispanic kids, black kids, they’re not caring for this at all. My dad is of the same idea.”
Another student who participated in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) with Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, but asked that he not be named, said most kids and people in town agree that Trump should not swing through.
“One big reason people don’t want him here was his speech yesterday and tweet of his,” the student said. “Apparently [the president] said it was the kids’ responsibility to report Nikolas Cruz so in a way it was our fault… A lot of people aren’t happy about his visit.”
Emotions remain raw among students in Parkland, especially after President Trump tweeted on Thursday that “Neighbors and classmates knew [Cruz] was a big problem” and that, in such cases, people “Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”
The missive left several students at the school livid, with some angirly responding to the president with tweets of their own.
“How is this our fault?” one student said on Twitter on Friday. “We can’t even vote and when we say something it’s usually pushed aside. Don’t you dare say that it is our fault, unless you were there, unless you tried your best you have no right to tell anyone what to believe.”
The FBI did receive a tip about Cruz in January, but failed to transmit the warning to its Miami field office.
On Thursday, Trump made his first public statement on the shooting, saying that his administration was “committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”
It is unclear how far Trump’s outreach to the Parkland community has or will progress beyond that. No parent or students who spoke to The Daily Beast said they had heard about Trump reaching out to bereaved families. The Trump White House, meanwhile, has yet to confirm any details related to a potential trip or meetings with survivors and their families.
“We’re still working on that,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told The Daily Beast Friday afternoon when asked if Trump is meeting with mass shooting survivors or their family members in Florida. The White House also would not confirm to The Daily Beast if the president had already called any of them, yet.
“I can’t believe that pig is coming down here,” said Kylan Reynolds, 23, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University in South Florida. “The man is a coward.”
Not everyone is demanding that Trump stay away, however. Some, like Nikhita Nookala, a 17-year-old senior at the school, are eager for him to come to Parkland so that he can, in her words, “learn a lesson.”
“If Trump comes down I think it’s important that he shows us he’s with us,” Nookala said to The Daily Beast. “I think the death of 17 people should encourage the president to consider [gun] restrictions… There’s been too many school shootings and we don’t need kids to die before they go to college.”
She said that for the president to come down and not take any direct action to limit guns in the country would be “hypocritical.”
“By action I mean urging legislators to stop listening to interest groups like the NRA and stop considering the rights of people to keep guns as a hobby over the lives of kids who just want to go to college and get a job and be Americans,” she said.
Amos Fernandes, whose daughter is a junior who survived the shooting, also feared that Trump would exploit the tragedy with a visit. But he also imagined that a such a trip could provide piece of mind.
“I think right now, people really really don’t want to see him here. But we need to show him that everybody is angry. It’s crazy,” Fernandes said. “I am so angry and a lot of parents are angry like myself. The whole city is angry.”
Fernandes, who lived in Connecticut during the Sandy Hook school shooting, said he was outraged that Congress had done nothing to restrict gun ownership.
“These politicians like Trump are getting paid, and while they’re getting paid people are getting killed,” he said.
Fernandes’ daughter, 16-year-old Kathlyn, said that if Trump does make the trip to Parkland, she hopes it will change his mind about gun control.
“What happened at my school could have been prevented if he had supported gun control,” she said. “It makes me feel bad he hasn’t done anything. At the end of the day, if you’re 18 you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun.”
“One of my former students, she’s a junior at the high school went to therapy today, she told me I don’t think I will get the memory of gunshots and people screaming out of my head,” said Catherine Kuhns, who was standing with fellow protesters calling for common sense gun reform two days after the shooting.
“I don’t understand why in the State of Florida, you can get an assault rifle at 18 but have to be at least 21 to purchase a handgun. It’s just absurd,” said Kuhns, who has been teaching since 1975 and at Country Hills Elementary since 1992. In 1998, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching from President Bill Clinton.
She added: “We will be back on this corner protesting tomorrow starting at 9 a.m. hoping to gather a crowd and hoping President Donald Trump travels past our path tomorrow.”
White House officials have undoubtedly become aware of how fraught a potential swing through Parkland would be. Trump has had mixed results in similar situations before. He did pay a visit to Las Vegas following the massacre of 58 people in October and called the shooting “an act of pure evil,” but that event was far less politicized. Earlier last year in August, the president botched his response to Charlottesville when he failed to condemn white supremacist James Fields, who drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer.
Several senior Trump aides expressed concern to The Daily Beast that Trump could potentially find himself in a situation in Parkland where he is trapped with grieving parents or students who harangue him about his administration’s position on guns, creating horrible optics and more negative press for the president. The same officials also voiced worry that the president’s response to such a situation could potentially make the situation on the ground worse, unintentionally. Asked for an explanation, one White House official referenced the incident when President Trump ended up making a widow cry when he meant to comfort her.
The fact that Cruz wore a pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hat while making racist remarks to his fellow classmates makes a visit all the more complicated.
Still, some allies of the president publicly maintain that he could indeed rise to the occasion.
“We’ve had many presidents in the past who have gotten into emotional exchanges with distraught parents and siblings and others in times of, for example, returning the remains of someone who died in war… This challenge is not something unique to the Trump presidency,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “I know President Trump well enough to know that in a situation where he’s met with an emotional response, he can… respond appropriately.”
“He’s a compassionate person,” Caputo added.