On Valentine’s Day 2018, a 19-year-old ex-student took an Uber to his old high school; he walked across the campus and into a three-story building, where he killed 17 people and injured 17 more. It was the sixth of 24 shootings in U.S. schools last year, but the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, became the catalyst for a nationwide movement. The school’s students rallied more than half a million people to Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives and galvanized support for some 67 new gun laws.
They became the public face of the tragedy, but back home many families of the victims have spent the year contending, privately, with the consequences of that day. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the tragedy in Parkland, Rolling Stone sat down with some of the survivors, including the Dworet family; students Maddy and John Wilford; graduate Chris Grady; Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the shooting; and teacher Ivy Schamis.
Mitch Dworet, Annika Dworet and Alex Dworet
The afternoon of the shooting, Alex Dworet called his mother from an ambulance to tell her he’d been grazed in the back of the head by a bullet. Annika and Mitch hadn’t heard from their other son, Nick, but with 3,000 students at Stoneman Douglas, the odds that both their sons would have been shot seemed impossibly low. They got the news that night.
Nick was 17 when he died, the captain of the swim team, dreaming of competing in the Olympics for Sweden, where his mother is from. Two weeks earlier, he’d signed a letter of intent to swim for the University of Indianapolis.
For the Dworets, it’s been a year of accepting well-meaning if sometimes uncomfortable gestures. In the closet where Nick used to stash junk food, there’s a big Kit Kat gift basket Hershey sent after it heard he’d loved the candy. Olympian Ryan Lochte came to Florida for a race he swam in Nick’s honor.
“You get invited to some very nice event or something, a meeting, and you sit there, and you see all of these beautiful things, and you realize that the reason I’m here is because my son’s not,” Annika says.
Alex turns 16 in February, the legal age for getting a tattoo in Florida. He plans to get Nick’s thumbprint inked on his arm, framed by the words “Brothers Forever.”
“We liked to drive a lot,” Alex recalls. They’d make runs to the grocery store for Oreos and ice cream.
Annika didn’t want Alex to go back to Stoneman Douglas this year. But he insisted. “I feel like if I went to a different school, if I started panicking, everybody would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Alex says. “But if I do that at Douglas, they’d understand.” The school has offered small accommodations: advance warning when there will be a fire alarm and a choice of where he sits in class. His dad says Alex needs to feel like he has an escape route.
Some of the new freshmen, though, don’t know what it was like that day. They think it’s funny to drop a stack of books on the floor or pop a bag of potato chips to spook the survivors. “Just being kids,” Mitch says. “You just don’t realize — you can’t realize — you don’t know what we’re going through.”
The Dworets have slowly gotten more comfortable speaking about changes they’d like to see around school safety and gun reform. “My wife’s a nurse, I’m a realtor. We’re not experts,” says Mitch. “But we’ve learned so much about the failures around it, and we’re the result.”