On Tuesday, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Ashley Kurth thought gun control was not the answer to preventing mass shootings. She is a lifelong Republican who said she supports the second amendment. She cast her vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
On Wednesday, Kurth hid 65 students and teachers in her classroom while a gunman massacred 17 people in her high school, including two of her friends.
The ordeal has converted her to a new ideology: “There’s no reason at all to have these weapons available to people. None.”
Former student Nikolas Cruz allegedly walked into the school at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and pulled the fire alarm before unleashing a hail of bullets from his AR-15 rifle.
Kurth, who is 34, was wrapping up a cooking class when she heard the alarm.
Then: Bang. Bang. More bangs.
She wrote off the noise as firecrackers or balloons popping at first, she said. But then two students ran past her door, screaming, “There’s a shooter! There’s a shooter!” She looked out her classroom door and saw a flood of students running from the adjacent freshman building, where the shots were being fired.
She pulled as many kids and teachers into her room as possible—some 65 people in all, Kurth said. Crowds of kids were still running past her door—she yelled at them to “keep running; keep running.” Then she pulled her door shut and locked it.
Kurth could hear more shots being fired as she tried to keep the kids in her classroom calm, and told them to text their families. Among the 17 people killed, two were her friends: football coach Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director.
Feis was shot after he threw himself in front of students to shield them from the gunfire, and died soon after at a nearby hospital.
“He was actually in my room about 30 minutes before,” Kurth said of the last time she saw Feis. “He was eating shrimp from the lab that my kids were doing.”
She remembered Feis as a “beautiful man,” who would drive her on his golf cart from the parking lot when she had groceries with her for her cooking classes. “He would come in and do demos with kids and they would make country gravy,” she said.
She had also spoken to Hixon that afternoon. She was planning a field trip with one of her classes and needed him to help organize it.Her friends would still be alive, she said, if there were stricter gun laws in the U.S. “If this child did not have access to something like this, it would not have ended the way that it did,” she said. “And that’s what we need to stop.”
“We’re tired of the ‘We’re sorry for your loss.’ ‘We’re praying for you.’ ‘We’re doing all these things.’ But nothing is physically being done,” Kurth said on Friday. “As educators, we’re taught that actions speak louder than words. And that’s what our community and all of us are crying out for: Actions need to take place to stop this from happening.”
To the president she voted for, Kurth pleaded on Friday for him to take action: “Please stop making it a mental illness issue and acknowledge the fact that it is both a gun and mental illness issue. He needs to physically get these parties to come together to put into legislation to get these guns out of the hands of these children.”