On Parkland’s Fifth Anniversary, These Young Advocates Vow to Keep Fighting to Save Lives

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By Giselle Balido

February 13, 2023

Two survivors of the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School remember the day that changed their lives forever and ignited a passion to advocate for common sense gun safety measures.

On Feb. 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the town of Parkland, Florida, murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others. 

Aalayah Eastmond, a junior at the time, remembers the confusion and the incomprehension she felt at what was taking place in front of her eyes in the one place where she should have felt safe, her high school classroom. 

Then she remembers being overtaken by a feeling of resignation: “At that moment I had already accepted that I was going to die.”

Five years later, the feeling is markedly different.

“I had the hope in 2018 of seeing gun violence decrease year by year. And we’ve been witnessing the exact opposite,” Eastmond told Floricua. “So, at this five-year mark, I’m feeling defeated, upset and disappointed at the route that this country is taking to address this issue that is costing thousands of people their lives. And I don’t understand why it’s taking so long to get proper legislation in place to support our communities and support our young people.”

Painful Sequels and a Steel Resolve

The events of that day changed her life forever. She now suffers from PTSD, insomnia and depression. But they also left her with an iron-clad resolve to do something to help people awaken to the urgent need for common-sense gun legislation.

“We have more guns in this country than we do people. At this point we’ve been having more shootings than we have days in a year. I think to question whether or not gun violence prevention legislation is needed is absolutely absurd.”

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This is why though it is painful to relive her story year after year, she continues to share it, hoping to inspire everyone, especially the young, to push for common sense gun laws.

“I think young people play an intrinsic role in this movement, because young people are the ones that are mostly impacted by this problem,” she said. 

A Call to Action

“It’s important for us to be involved in our local politics, not just in voting for the president, but making sure that you’re voting for the proper school board members and you’re voting for the right commissioner,” she said, adding that it is also crucial to keep speaking out; to continue to be an advocate for change.

And for her, advocacy looks different for everyone. “It’s up to you to define what it looks like for you.”

It could mean, she says, speaking with teens or local politicians, or using social media to help bring awareness to the issue. 

“I just hope somebody in a position of power hear those words and they [decide] ‘we should take this seriously.’” 

Robert’s Story

Robert Schentrup graduated from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas HS in 2017, but his two sisters still went to school there the day of the shooting. In 2018 he was attending the University of Central Florida, and on that particular day, he was unwinding after class when he received a call from a friend.

“He said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I’m pretty sure there was a shooting at your school, and it’s on the news right now, you know, check on your family, check on your friends.’”

He immediately texted his sisters and called his parents. 

“I heard back pretty immediately from my sister Evelyn that she was okay, but I hadn’t heard back from my sister Carmen. I assumed that that was because of the chaos.”

But as the hours grew longer and still there was no news of his sister, Robert put out a post on Facebook asking anyone with information to let his family know. 

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“And that’s when someone reached out to me and said that she had heard that Carmen had been shot. And it wasn’t until 2 a.m. the next day, February 15th, that we actually got confirmation that Carmen was shot. And that she had been killed.”

A Feeling of Betrayal

The events of that day robbed him, he says, of something precious: experiencing life with his sister, of being able to share the milestones that they looked forward to as a family.

“Not being able to go to Carmen’s graduation, not being able to celebrate her as she goes off to college and graduates and starts a family and gets married and everything else,” he says. “Those are the things that are not going to happen now.”

His sister’s death also eroded his sense of safety; whether in a classroom or out in public with friends, he became more anxious and guarded. It also left him feeling betrayed “by my country and the people who were supposed to take care of me and the ones that I loved.”

But it also left him with a firm resolution to speak out. 

“I think that it is horrible that we’re continuing to see bills like permitless carry that we know make people less safe continue to be implemented,” Schentrup said, “but I understand that the gun lobby and the hundreds of millions of dollars that they pump into political campaigns are in large part of the reason why we see this happen. It is a concerted effort by the N.R. A. and those that work with them to promote this idea to sell more guns.”

He also shares his belief that the issue requires more than mere legislation; that gun safety needs to go beyond regulations to address the root of the problem. 

“It’s important to have regulations around firearm ownership and possession,” he said, “but it’s also important to build structures of community and safety that prevent someone from becoming violent in the first place.”

As members of Brady’s Team ENOUGH, a youth-led initiative that educates and mobilizes young people in the fight against gun violence, Eastmond and Schentrup continue to speak out against the gun violence epidemic that impacted their lives and have turned the devastation of the day that changed them forever, into a mission to change minds and save lives.



  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.



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