In this Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, photo, Brianna Fisher, 16, left, Leni Steinhardt, 16, center, and Brianna Jesionowski sit during an interview with The Associated Press about a new book called “Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories,” in Parkland, Fla. Students and teachers from the Florida school where 17 died in February‚Äôs high school massacre wrote the raw, poignant book about living through the tragedy. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

‘I still weep’: Parkland survivors write book on shooting

Book by 43 students and teachers who lived through high school massacre gives a raw recap

“Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories” needed to be written, its authors believe, but wish desperately it hadn’t.

The book by 43 students and teachers who lived through February’s high school massacre gives a poignant, raw, and sometimes graphic look into the six-minute shooting spree where 17 died and its aftermath as a well-off Fort Lauderdale suburb suddenly found itself mourning in a global spotlight that has dimmed but will never reach black.

“I lost my sense of innocence. I lost my sense of security. I lost my ability to see the world as I had only hours earlier. I would give anything to go back,” wrote journalism teacher Sarah Lerner, who edited the 192-page paperback of essays, poems, photos and art published Tuesday by Crown Books for Young Readers.

Lerner and three student contributors gathered recently in a park a mile from the school to talk about the tragedy and how the book helped them cope as a veneer of normalcy returns weeks before the anniversary. Nearby, a few dozen special education students practiced yoga, helped by Stoneman Douglas volunteers. A skater zipped past. Elementary kids noisily played soccer.

READ MORE: 7,000 pairs of shoes laid out in Washington, D.C., to honour kids killed by gun violence

The poet

“How many did he kill? After hours of no sleep, my eyes slip shut, as I still weep, there is a feeling in my gut, I wake up screaming, the memories haunt my head” – Brianna Jesionowski in her poem, “First Night.”

Jesionowski’s English class was ending when shots rang out just outside on the first floor of the three-story freshman building. The gunman fired down the hallway with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and through windows into classrooms, but not hers. He then climbed the stairs, killing as he went.

But Jesionowski and her classmates didn’t know it was real. There had been rumours that the school would hold an active-shooter drill with blank guns and drama students portraying victims.

“We thought it was weird – we had never been through anything like this,” she said. Even after police evacuated her class and she exited through a blood-filled hallway, she said her mind wouldn’t accept the reality until she met her older sister, Kaitlyn, whose hands were bloody from comforting a girl as she died.

She began writing poems before she was asked to contribute to the book – it’s how she copes. Several are featured.

“I had so many different feelings. I was confused. My sister gave me good advice to write it down and sort through it,” she said.

The letter writer

“My name is Leni Steinhardt and I am a survivor of a school shooting. That is a sentence no sixteen-year-old should have to write” – Leni Steinhardt in her essay, “Dear Senator Marco Rubio.”

The letter, which Steinhardt also sent Congress members, details the terror she felt as she called her parents to say she loved them in case she never got another chance. How her brother lost a friend. It asks a pointed question: “What are you and the rest of the government doing to prevent this from happening again?”

“It was important that he heard it from me because I was angered after the shooting,” Steinhardt said. “I really didn’t have anyone to go to after this. My parents never lived through a shooting. My grandparents didn’t know. There really wasn’t anyone in my life who could answer these questions.”

She said Rubio responded, agreeing changes are needed but gave no specifics.

The photographer

The photo shows three girls hugging tight in a Stoneman Douglas walkway, their eyes closed. Are they frightened? Mourning? No. Brianna Fisher took the photo long before the shooting on a first day of school of friends happy to see each other. She posted it on Instagram shortly after the shooting to show what school should be, not what it had become.

For her, the book represents what her schoolmates experienced – and she and the other contributors have a major responsibility.

“Not every student is going to be speaking to the press or writing something – it needs to be an accurate presentation,” Fisher said.

The teacher

For Lerner, like everyone, it had been a normal day. In her classroom across from the freshman building, she’d quizzed students on George Orwell’s book “1984,” dropping chocolate kisses on their desks so they wouldn’t think her a “total monster” for interrupting their Valentine’s Day. She posted a selfie of the red leggings she wore for the occasion. During the shooting, she and some students huddled until SWAT officers found them and led them away.

She said the book has helped her and the students heal.

“We went through this together and we are going to get through this together,” she said.

Terry Spencer, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tom Thomson painting from 1912-13. (Photo - Kelowna Art Gallery)
Early works by Group of Seven presented at Kelowna Art Gallery

The group of seven were responsible for the first major national art movement in Canada

From right to left: Silverado Socrates (Independent), Norm Letnick (Liberal), John Janmaat (Green) and Kyle Geronazzo (Libertarian). (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Kelowna-Lake Country candidates square off at forum

All candidates in the riding were in attendance except for BC NDP candidate Justin Kulik

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Kelowna RCMP investigating unexplained death of cattle

Cattle found dead near gravel road, east of the Kelowna Airport

View of Larsson Hill from DriveBC camera at 7:25 a.m. on Oct. 21. (Contributed)
Vehicle incident at Larson Hill causing delays up to one hour on Coquihalla

The incident has blocked traffic in both directions

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Vernon Fire Rescue Services work to put out a structure fire in an abandoned house on Highway 97 and 39th Avenue Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Abandoned house goes up in flames in Vernon

Single-lane traffic remains in effect on Highway 97 in both directions

The Community Foundation of the South Okanagan Similkameen is launching an initiative to provide horse-assisted therapy to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (Black Press file photo)
Community Foundation of South Okanagan Similkameen to provide horse-assisted therapy

Therapy sessions will be offered to frontline workers during ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Brody Peterson said he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Brody Peterson told The Gazette he intends to dispute tickets issued by Grand Forks RCMP at his backyard “house warming” Saturday, Oct. 10. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks RCMP recommend criminal charges after weekend party

Homeowner Brody Peterson said he’ll dispute tickets for refusing police instructions, alleged COVID violations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Paul Singla walks towards his Penticton home on Heather Road in 2018 after CBSA officers raided it. (File photo)
Singla and Toor make first court appearances on immigration fraud

The Okanagan men had their cases adjourned until 2021

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast a ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Most Read