Teenager’s bold reaction to horror
SOFIE Whitney knew two people killed in the shooting at her school - a 14-year-old who was friends with her bestie's sister and the first boy she ever kissed.
When Sofie's drama class heard the gunfire, they ran into a closet, where 65 students hid for almost two hours until a SWAT team broke in and they ran out with their hands up.
"I was terrified," the 18-year-old told news.com.au. "It's a normal day of school and then you hear gunshots and then you're fearing for your life five minutes later."
Sofie was one of the first to join the group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School planning the March For Our Lives protest in Washington next month.
"Most of us knew at least one or two that were killed," she said. "I think it's just our way of grieving. Everyone does it differently and we couldn't just sit back while we let everyone forget about us, we need to make sure this never had to happen again, because no kid, no person of any age should go through what we had to go through."
Sofie believes the March 24 rally will be "bigger than anyone could ever imagine".
The group of students is now around 20-strong, and everyone has some connection to the mass shooting that rocked their school in Parkland, Florida. They are doing their best to stay in the news, and keep the momentum going. They are determined to make a difference where the US Government has failed.
"At this point, with other shootings, they'd be slowly dissipating out of the news and we're just getting started," said Sofie, who describes Parkland as "the safest place to live".
The teenager said she "never thought it would happen here", never believed she would have to listen to the cruel, perfunctory murder of friends Nicholas Dworet, 17, and Jaime Guttenberg, who wasn't even 15. As the funerals continue, Sofie and her close-knit community haven't even begun to process their devastation, but they have starting fighting regardless.
"We have so many bright and intelligent kids there and that's another reason why this is going to be different, because all of us are so prepared and ready to make this the last time anyone has to bury their kids because of a shooting at school," she said.
"We don't want to let them have died for nothing, we want to make something better out of this."
Sofie said she had been working "non-stop" along with other students, including Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez - who have both made powerful speeches on TV news. Their Facebook page Never Again already has more than 80,000 followers and they believe the movement is "different" because it is entirely run by students.
They plan to have all the speeches made by students in Washington, with simultaneous protests taking place across the nation, and even the world.
"We are the ones that experienced it, we are the victims and I think us doing it is really symbolic of what we're trying to trying to achieve," Sofie said.
She and her peers believe they have to act for their bereaved friends and neighbours who are "suffering emotionally" and need people fighting for them.
"Everyone in our town is so supportive of what we're doing and they're so happy that we're telling, that we're going to make a change out of this, because some people aren't willing to do that and of course ... they're the ones suffering," Sofie said.
"The first couple of days were really rough on all of us, but sitting around and being upset would just make it worse and we all are so determined and angry about what happened so that's why we're doing this.
"Clearly the Government has failed us because no kid should have to do this for themselves, no kid should have to watch their friends die, but we did and we have to do this now."