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Opinion: Connecting to a mass shooting for the first time

The 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting.

MARCH 8, 2018 – Many of my peers and I arrived in Orlando expecting the weekend of our lives. We were there to attend the BBYO International Convention.

On our first day there, we heard about the Parkland school shooting only a couple of hours drive away. The news only got worse. As the story was developing, one of my friends got a call, started crying her eyes out, and had to leave the programming. No one really knew what had happened until later that day, when she explained that her cousin was one of the 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

One of my other friends showed up later than expected, and I found out he, too, was mourning the loss of a cousin who was another victim of the shooting. Once the convention got into full swing, I realized I had a friend who attends the Parkland school where the shooting took place. Thinking about the fact I know someone who goes to a school where a shooting occurred scared me beyond belief.

This was the first mass shooting to which I had a personal connection. Now, whenever I talk about the shooting or read about the shooting, all I can think about is my friends who lost their cousins and my friend who goes to school there. I’ve realized that tragedies like these can happen anywhere.

This also is the first shooting that I feel has led to real change. The courageous survivors have begun to take action and stand up for what they believe in. My friend from Parkland along with many of her peers have gone around the state speaking to town halls, elected officials, and appearing on TV to speak their minds about gun control. They have started movements that are sweeping the nation: the National School Walkout on March 14 and the March for Our Lives on March 24.

Not only are millions of teens across the United States mobilized, but change is being enacted. Several companies have withdrawn their support of the NRA, some stores have taken assault weapons off their shelves, and others have raised the minimum age to purchase. These are the steps we need to take toward safety. We have momentum right now, and now what we need is for that momentum to carry into Congress.

I am proud to say that Marblehead High School has signed up for the March 14 walkout. I am also proud to say that BBYO is organizing on the international level in order to increase its members’ involvement. We are encouraging participation in the March For Our Lives.

There is a lot of hope now. And I’m encouraged by all of my inspiring peers who are doing everything that they can to enact change.

Mason Quintero is a senior at Marblehead High School.

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