Story by Anisha Saripalli
My name is Anisha Saripalli and I survived the deadliest high school shooting in US history.
I graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, four months after the Valentine’s Day massacre. Like that of many of my peers, my life changed completely. I went from being a normal high school student to grieving the death of my best friend to marching and protesting to end the gun violence epidemic. I stayed active with this movement even when starting at the University of Florida. I am currently the treasurer for March For Our Lives Gainesville, advocating for a safer community in Gainesville and Florida. The United States is plagued with a disease, and the only cure is gun violence legislature.
February 14th used to be a day of love for me. Valentine’s Day was celebrated within my friend group at Douglas. We would give each other funny meme printouts and small bags of candy as valentines. One of my friends would sometimes bring a bouquet of flowers to give to all of us singletons.
That day started off just like a normal one, except we had a fire drill in the morning. Since I had an off-campus study hall during first period, I came to school a couple minutes before the drill. A couple hours afterwards, the fire alarm went off for a second time. We blamed culinary before we had all the information, thinking that they had set off the alarm by burning some of their Valentine’s Day baked goods. I didn’t know what was going on until we went past the football field. I began thinking that there was a bomb threat, which would explain why we were moving far away from campus. Once I saw a SWAT team member, my friends started getting texts from their friends on the other side of the school.
These friends were hiding in the 1200 building, where there was a shooting. That’s when the crowd around me starting texting and calling everyone they knew. Police cruisers zoomed past on the expressway and helicopters flew overhead. I texted my friends in both the 1200 and 1300 buildings to make sure they were safe.
Almost all of them responded. They were safe, except for one. We couldn’t reach her. Everyone tried to call and text her, but she wouldn’t answer. Her parents heard back from her sister, who was a freshman, but not her. Nobody knew if Carmen Schentrup was safe or if she was a victim.
When I got back home, I hugged my mom as tightly as possible and turned on the news. My school was on every news station. The death toll was climbing and students in need of medical attention were being rushed to hospitals around the county. My friends with cars drove to each hospital to help her parents look for Carmen. All of my friends kept praying that if she had been shot shot, she would be getting the help she needed in the hospital. Her death was confirmed at 2 a.m. on the 15th.
My best friend had been murdered in her AP Psychology class one week before her 17th birthday. I experienced two more birthdays that she didn’t. She will forever be 16. She never got to go to grad bash or vote. She never got to wear the dress she had picked out for prom.
She never got to decide between UF or UW. She might have attended the UF Honors Program, where she had been accepted. She never got the chance to join Honors Ensemble or Honors Chords. She never got the chance to write for PRISM. She never got to share adventures with me in Gainesville.
Since the shooting at my high school, there have been countless deaths from firearms: mass shootings, urban shootings, accidental shootings, suicides, etc. During the 12 months following the shooting, 1200 kids were killed by a gun in the US (sinceparkland.org). I’ve watched as the nation grew desensitized to these deaths, as politicians bought by the NRA sent thoughts and prayers instead of implementing legislation to prevent more innocent lives from being taken.
They used the same template, changing the city where the tragedy happened from the previous one. Not one of them demanded a change in our nation’s easy access to firearms that cause these murders. They instead turned to other “causes” that made the shooter kill people. They blamed mental health, violent video games—anything but firearm access as to not upset the NRA. People with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be a victim of gun violence as opposed to being the perpetrator (nami.org).
The argument for violent video games also doesn’t hold up because the US isn’t the only country with violent video games. However, we are the only developed country with frequent mass shootings (economist.com). If violent video games were the reason that gun violence occurs, then many other countries would have a gun violence epidemic as well.
We need more restrictions on the purchasing of firearms. There must be a universal and up-to-date background check system in place, so no gun purchases can be made without checking if a customer has a records. The shooter was expelled from MSD in 2017 and had previous problems with the police and the FBI. Due to our lax firearm restrictions, he was able to legally purchase an AR-15 from a gun store. Many other shooters are able to obtain their weapons legally. Red flag laws also need to be implemented, so people who are a threat to themselves or others can’t purchase firearms. If they already own firearms and there is probable cause, the weapons should be confiscated until there is no more danger.
Like cars, people should have licenses in order to own guns, so there’s accountability. Since firearms have the capability to be used as murder weapons, there should be tests to ensure more safety. People get driver’s licenses because the vehicle can be used as a weapon if used incorrectly. If they break the applicable law, drivers can have their licenses suspended. This should be analogous to gun ownership.
To prevent the number of accidental shootings, there should be safe storage laws to keep the gun away from curious kids’ hands. I also support the ban of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The shooter at my high school was able to murder 17 students and injure 17 more in a three-story building in 6 minutes and 23 seconds. The Dayton shooter was able to murder 9 people in 32 seconds due to having a assault rifle with a high capacity magazine. Tell me how that makes sense.
Within the span of a Youtube video, my peers and teachers were murdered. These weapons of war shouldn’t be in the hands of people who direct them not against enemies, but innocents.
I understand that the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be restrictions to protect the safety of Americans. The First Amendment has restrictions in place to protect us. You can’t shout fire in a crowded theater and cause a mass panic, so why can’t we prevent people from actually firing into a crowded theater like the Aurora shooter?
I also understand that these laws can’t stop every form of gun violence in this country, but saving a couple hundred lives is better than doing nothing and letting more innocent people die. If any of these were implemented before Feb. 14, Carmen might still be alive. If I could turn back time to prevent this tragedy from happening, I would. I fight this fight to end gun violence for the 17 Eagles whose voices were silenced far too early. Every battle we overcome is for them and every other victim of gun violence.