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School Shooting Survivors Discuss Their Experiences


Funerals are underway this weekend for 17 students and teachers who died in a shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School (ph) in Florida. The FBI has acknowledged it was tipped off about the shooter's potential for violence, but it did not act on the information. Florida's governor, Rick Scott, has called for the head of the FBI to resign.

Amidst the grief in Florida, students there are speaking out on gun violence and what to do about it. This morning, we're going to hear from one of them from Parkland, Fla., and two other students in other parts of the country who've also experienced school shootings in the past few months. Here are their stories.

On Dec. 7, 2017, a shooter killed two students at a high school in Aztec, N.M. Daniela Vargas was there in math class.

DANIELA VARGAS: He walked up the stairs into the bathroom, and I was downstairs. An old friend of mine, Paco - he walked into the boys' bathroom where the shooter was. And that's when we heard the first shots.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Paco and another student were killed. On Jan. 22, 2018, Hannah Haight was at her school in Italy, Texas.

HANNAH HAIGHT: Typical Monday, didn't want to be there. And all of a sudden, I just saw everybody running out the doors. And, like, I heard people yelling, run, run, run. And then, in the cafeteria, he shot a girl six times.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That student was airlifted to a hospital and recovered. And Alfonso Calderon was in theater class at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Florida on Valentine's Day.

ALFONSO CALDERON: I heard the fire alarm go off, and I looked outside. And I just heard gunshot after gunshot after gunshot after gunshot. Then our teacher told us to get into the closet in the back of the room. And we were locked in there for about three hours, I'd say. And, I mean, the only thing I could do was I texted my parents I love them and that I was sorry for everything I'd had gone through with them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The three had never met until I got them on the line yesterday.

Did you guys feel safe at your schools before the shootings?

CALDERON: Honestly, yeah. I mean, I live in Parkland, and Parkland is - it was voted the No. 1 safest city in Florida last year in 2017. It's ridiculously - like, I hate to put it this way, but it's where the rich kid lives. And I'm very lucky to live there. That's why it's such a shock for everyone that it happened because it's - nothing happens in Parkland, so - I'm sorry. It's just, sometimes, it's a little bit difficult to talk about this. But something needs to happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, Hannah, how did it feel in Italy, Texas? Did you feel safe at your school?

HAIGHT: I did. Italy's a super small town. Like, there was 40 kids in my class. And, like, you don't expect things to happen at, like, a two-lane town. And - but, like, we've told the, like, school about, like, his actions. Like, he threw a pair of scissors at me before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The shooter?

HAIGHT: Yes. And, like, the school, like - I just don't think anything was handled in the right way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Daniela in Aztec, N.M., what was that like? I mean, did you feel safe?

VARGAS: Well, before the shooting happened, I really didn't feel all that safe because they didn't have security guards. So I just thought, that's kind of odd, you know? Like, what if something were to happen? And, well, it already did. And now they have security guards.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you guys feel like security guards are the answer? What would make you feel safe in your schools now?

VARGAS: It's like a strict rule, a very strict rule. We have to have our IDs on us. It has to be visible for faculty and staff and the security guards to see.


HAIGHT: I don't know. Like, at any school after this, you don't know, like, what's going through other people's heads.


CALDERON: For me at least, we did have security guards. And we also had, like, the deputy, who is always on-site, on campus. And we had people on golf carts always going around, making sure that nothing happened. But it's the fact that somebody who was mentally disturbed, who was 19 bought an AR-15 and just decided to come and mow everybody down at my school. No security guard could have stopped that. I mean, he killed one of the security guards who - he's a hero, frankly. He was a football coach, as well. And he threw himself in front of the kids in order to protect them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you talk to the adults in your life about students that concern you? What is sort of the bar for talking about someone who you think might have a problem?

CALDERON: Very open, usually, about this kind of thing but I guess also because of our society where we joke about school shootings. And we joke about things like this. Sometimes, people don't take it as seriously as they probably should. And I'm guilty of that, too, because I didn't know the shooter, but I had seen him around school. And everybody knew he acted off, and he had a weird behavior. But we just thought, oh, that won't happen to us. It's just not a possibility. And then it did.

HAIGHT: Yeah. We've always said that if anyone was to do it, it'd be that person. Like, he actually did do it. And if he was going to do it, it's more, like, of a matter of when he would do it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And had you told anyone, Hannah? Had you expressed that to anyone?

HAIGHT: Yes, definitely. Multiple times. He, like, drew pictures of the school burning down. He, like, kind of, like, fit what you would think, the stereotypical. You know what I'm saying? I hate being that way, like, stereotyping somebody. But, like...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He ticked all the boxes of someone who you might suspect.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to ask you how you all are doing now. Obviously, Alfonso, this has just happened. It's been really recent.

CALDERON: Pretty recent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But how are you coping? And then, I'd like to hear from Hannah and Daniela.

CALDERON: No. Definitely. The first day after I got evacuated, I was just really thankful, honestly. I instantly talked to my mom. I was almost kind of happy because I was alive. But the next day, when there was a very big candle vigil for all the fallen, I mean, I lost it. I was an emotional wreck. And the same thing keeps happening over and over and over again, but nobody really ever does any policy change. It's just, oh, this was bad. Make sure this doesn't happen again.

So me and my friends - we've started something. And we're - it's called Never Again. And this should just never be allowed to happen. And I think that the way that that's going to be able to is if we help the mentally ill for sure. But first and foremost, we need to have just common-sense gun control put in place.

HAIGHT: I'm very religious. I've been, like, in the Bible a lot. And I've been, like, trying to keep myself busy, trying not to think about it. So, like, if I hear a loud bang or something, like, I just get really bad anxiety. And I transferred schools because I couldn't go back in there after seeing, like, and being in that situation. Like, I just couldn't.

VARGAS: For me, I knew Paco in middle school, and I still find it...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your friend who was killed...

VARGAS: Yes. I still find it very hard that he's gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hannah and Daniela, as we've heard from Alfonso, there is a movement developing out of Florida. A lot of the kids there have started being very vocal about the issue of gun control. Do you see yourselves as part of that? Is that something that you would join or sign up to?

VARGAS: Most definitely.

HAIGHT: Yeah. I would totally. I'm so glad that they're getting this out there and trying to make a change in this, like, scary world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you want your lawmakers to know both at the local and national level?

CALDERON: OK. Definitely for the local level, I know lawmakers in Florida are always tipped by the NRA, and they're always paid for. And that's why they never want any gun policy to be made, but it's just insanity. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results. In Florida this year, there's been the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting. There was also the Orlando Pulse nightclub. And now it's my high school. It's insane to think that anything is going to change unless you do something. And on a national level, I just want a conversation with Donald Trump. That's all I want. I don't want to bad-mouth him. I don't want this to be a left or right, red or blue issue. It just isn't. It's a saving-lives issue, and this just can't ever happen again.

HAIGHT: I would say I don't understand, like, why you don't read the signs. The signs are there. The signs are always there. In every single shooting we've talked about, there were the exact same signs.


VARGAS: Well, I think we should follow what other countries have been doing, like in Australia. When a mass shooting happened there - I don't know when it happened. But they passed stricter gun laws, and another mass shooting hasn't really happened. And the gun laws they have in Japan - they have to go through - I don't know - like, a shooting range test. They have to go to the hospital, you know, to take a test for their mental health. And I think they should enforce that onto our country because it's becoming a real problem. And also, the way the FBI had failed my school and Alfonso's school - they should take any little tip seriously. Any person that seems a bit suspicious they should take seriously because this is not going to stop until something is done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Daniela Vargas, Hannah Haight and Alfonso Calderon, thank you so very much.

VARGAS: Thank you.

HAIGHT: Thank you.

CALDERON: Thank you for your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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