At the entrance of the school, Stoneman Douglas students participate in the National School Walkout.
Rain Valladares

Parkland Students on Life After a Shooting: 'I Am Not Actually Fine'

March 22, 2018 7:01 AM EDT

For the roughly 3,000 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the last month has been filled with heaviness and heartache, as well as a strong sense of solidarity and strength. Since 17 of their peers and faculty were murdered on Valentine’s Day, the students have struggled with how to move on from the trauma while also mourning their friends and fighting to end to gun violence—all while juggling the homework, tests and everyday anxieties that come with being a regular high school student.

To convey what this moment has been like, nine Parkland students agreed to keep diaries of their experience for TIME. In the entries below, which have been lightly edited for clarity and are paired with photographs taken by Parkland students, they share what it feels like to hide in a closet as a shooter prowls campus, to imagine your alarm clock are police sirens, and to help organize the National School Walkout on March 14 and the March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C. Almost all of the students say their lives have changed forever.

“Surviving is the easy part,” writes 14-year-old Caspen Becher, a freshman who is part of the Douglas JROTC program. “Learning to live again is the hard part.”

Emma González hands out proclamations of love for students to give to friends on Valentine's Day.
Rain Valladares

February 14

There are certain sounds you cannot mistake. I sprinted back up the stairs and locked eyes on my classroom. As I reached for the door handle, it wouldn’t budge. It’s protocol for teachers to lock their doors during a code red. I’m not sure how to describe my feeling in that moment. We ended up making our way to an outside hallway intersection. Someone told us to stay here—this was the safest place we could be in the moment. Being able to see from three directions brought a sense of comfort. It told us that we had other options if we were approached by the shooter. We waited. It was only around five minutes, but it felt like hours. — Jack Macleod, 16, junior

A day supposed to be full of love will forever have the opposite meaning for me. Fourth period. We hear a pop and kids start sprinting and screaming. I was in the auditorium, surrounded by people crying and calling their parents. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I was frantically texting all my friends to see if they were O.K. Not having them respond was the scariest, heart-wrenching feeling in the world. An hour and a half later, SWAT came in—weapons drawn and heads on a swivel. The fear I felt still didn’t go away. We were put in a line and told to keep our hands raised high and visible. We ran. I didn’t stop running until I was met with a wall of officers. The entire time, all I could think about was the other people around me. I didn’t cry until I saw my dad across the street. It was then that it hit me. Some of my friends were hurt. Some of my friends were still missing, and there was nothing I could do. I walked with my dad, bawling my eyes out, only saying one thing: “Why did this happen to them? They could be dead. Why?” — Alyson Sheehy, 18, senior

Everyone in my AP English Literature class had written sonnets for their mothers, which we presented in class. Carmen Schentrup admitted that she had already showed the poem to her mother—almost like a farewell that she had foreseen. After class, I walked with her halfway to her next class, which unknowingly became her place of death later that day. We parted ways with a “see you later,” not knowing that it would be the last time that we would see each other. Ten minutes before dismissal, the fire alarm rang for the second time that day. My classmates all wore the same confused expression as I did as we walked out. But then, our confusion became panic when we realized that this was very real and was not the active shooter drill that we had been anticipating. We heard every shot echoing across the campus. We were ushered back into our classrooms and we huddled together, scared and worried for the safety of our friends, for another two and a half hours. Rumors started spreading like wildfire that Carmen was among those who had been shot and was left in the building as other students were evacuated. Family members and classmates held onto the little hope that perhaps she had been sent to the hospital and was in surgery, recovering, but just unidentified. My friends frantically texted those who were “missing” and they attempted to search for them at the hospital. Parents waited at the Marriott Hotel to hear the fate of their child. I texted both Carmen and Joaquin, but little did we know that we were waiting for responses that would never come. After 11 agonizing hours, it was confirmed at 2 a.m. on February 15, 2018, that Carmen, Joaquin, and 15 others had passed away. It was Valentine’s Day, a day that will now be marked with spilt blood. — Carmen Lo, 17, senior

A Feb. 17 rally for gun control, held in Fort Lauderdale three days after the Parkland shooting, drew a crowd of thousands.
Suzanna Barna
Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr speaks during the Feb. 17 rally: "Because of these gun laws, people that I know, people that I love, have died, and I will never be able to see them again."
Suzanna Barna

February 18

Gun control has always been debated, but ultimately fails because of the voices of the people being drowned out by politicians, interest groups and money. This time it is different. We are not letting our voices be pushed aside because it is enough. This is something that has affected us directly, but it is also something that we don’t ever want anyone else to have to go through. I don’t want to live in a world where money means more than human lives. That is just not right. Something that I have come across is younger kids asking how they can help even though they don’t have a voice. Honestly, I didn’t think that I had any power up until a few weeks ago. Something really important to stress is that we have all talked about the effects of gun violence before. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to happen at our school for the nation to hear what my classmates have to say. We are kids. We are angry, and we are not going to stop. Balancing school, homework, yearbook, sports, and now political activism will be hard, but for something this important, I will always make time for it. — Alyson Sheehy, 18, senior

February 21

Since the shooting, I have felt unbelievably helpless. Useless. Yet, in that moment, standing with these strangers, I felt strong. Empowered. Driven. I was not just a child without a voice. I was part of something bigger. I was one of the many people in that crowd—one of the many voices warning all of our representatives that if they did not give us what we wanted, they will be jobless come midterm elections. They fear us. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with. We are all Eagles. It doesn’t matter if you are not a Stoneman Douglas student, teacher or alumnus. If you stand with us, you are an Eagle. And when eagles dig their talons into something, they do not let up. I promised myself I would fight for the fallen victims and their families. I promised to protest not only for them, but also for the victims of future mass shootings. I didn’t care if I was one of the thousands of faceless and unknown protesters. All I knew was that I wanted to help in any way I could. All I knew was that everything we do will add up. Every voice. Every rally. Every vote. I am part of the Never Again Movement. — Taylor Morales, 18, senior

A prayer circle for strength and guidance for the students as they begin returning to school.
Rain Valladares

February 28

The first time stepping back on campus was hard. The sheer amount of people in front of our school was a little overwhelming. I didn’t like cameras in our faces either. It was kind of rude and disrespectful to us, who were trying to convince ourselves to walk into the school. Once on campus and away from everyone it got better. There were dogs roaming everywhere, familiar faces, and I finally got to see all my friends again. We gave each other the biggest hugs imaginable, and said I love you probably a thousand times. The rest of the day went smoothly. It was spent with a lot of dog snuggles and belly rubs. For the most part, we sat and talked to our friends and just tried to gain a sense of normalcy. I think that it was good that we all went back. It really helped me get out of the rut I was in. Just talking about it made it easier to handle because it didn’t feel like a burden only I was carrying anymore. — Alyson Sheehy, 18, senior

As I got to school, I was embraced by law enforcement and teachers welcoming us back as if we were heroes. I do not feel like a hero. We started off our day in our fourth period, I think, to symbolize the tragedy that my peers and I went through. It was different than before. Before you would only talk to a select group of people or your “squad,” but now everyone is your “squad.” Everyone is your family and everyone comforts one another. I will never forget that day, February 14, 2018, because it wasn’t just the day my life changed. It was the day that change would begin. — Jose Iglesias, 17, senior

My alarm went off and my window shades were a little bit open. I saw the light and I started panicking. That was really scary. The feeling of waking up and feeling scared. — Carly Novell, 17, senior

After the school reopened, comfort dogs—like this one named Jacob—were brought in for the students.
Rain Valladares

It kind of felt like the first day of school, but in a weird way. It’s so overwhelming having all these people around when we’re trying to go back to normal. I don’t think that there is a normal anymore, because 17 people died here. The police, that doesn’t feel normal. Being here the whole day, it’s heavy. I just didn’t want to have to deal with it all. This whole time I’ve been able to stay away from it, but walking into the place where it happened—it’s facing it right away. I was thinking, how am I back to this place where I hid? Where my classmates were killed? It’s just crazy to think about. I think because I have all my friends in newspaper, we all have each other. I think that made it better. But when I look over, to the closet, or the corner that we all were hiding in at first, I see in my mind all of us crouched in the corner and hiding in the closet. It’s still an image in my mind. — Carly Novell, 17, senior

I felt nervous and I felt like my emotions were going to be too much for me to handle, but instead it just ended up making me stronger. I felt stronger than I had in days. You know everyone there is showing how much courage and bravery they have to even enter campus. You know it’s not just you who’s frightened to be here. It’s everyone. Everyone around you went through the same thing. Everyone made it so comforting to go back. We all are nicer. We’re all helping each other more. You can’t just hide from what happened. You can’t hide from the school. You can’t hide from the situation. It’s something you need to face. — Taylor Morales, 18, senior

March 1

Today was much more emotional than yesterday. I started my day off in my peer counseling class, where we started with group counseling. This was very emotional, as people expressed their feelings of guilt and sadness and many other things. I teared up through many of the stories as others let it all out. I try to stay strong, comforting others through their moment. Throughout the day there are harder times. The hallways aren’t as crowded, but I picture myself running for my life again. — Jose Iglesias, 17, senior

People keep asking me how I am. I’ll tell them that I’m doing well, or that I’m O.K. But in reality, I don’t know how I feel. I know that isn’t a good enough answer for anyone. People want to hear that I’m breaking down or that I’m crippled with fear, but I really don’t know what I’m feeling. The emotions that I’m feeling are so foreign and unidentifiable that they come across as nothing. It’s like how all of the colors in a rainbow prism show as white at a certain angle. I have all of these strong and overwhelming feelings, and there are so many that they just come across as numbness. A lot of people are saying that they feel angry at the world, at Cruz or at our country’s gun laws, and I feel that too, but I feel most angry with myself. It’s not that I did or didn’t do anything, but I haven’t felt anything. I’ve cried five times at the most, but I want to feel an uncontrollable sadness. I want the tears to flow without stopping. Part of me feels like I would feel all of this if I were able to step in the freshman building. Maybe if I saw the scene in person, not just in my head, maybe I would feel it all. I wouldn’t have to be waiting for this uncontrollable sadness to close in, it could just all come to me at once. I also didn’t hear gunshots, but I wish I did. Maybe it would feel more real. It’s been two weeks, and this still doesn’t feel real to me. This isn’t my school. This isn’t my home. These weren’t my classmates. But maybe if I heard the gunshots, it would be like I was really there. I keep hearing the phrase, “There is no right or wrong way to grieve.” But I don’t feel like I’m grieving because I don’t feel anything at all. — Carly Novell, 17, senior

Surviving is the easy part. Learning to live again is the hard part. In a way, we all died with each and every one of those 17 lives lost in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting. We all were injured when each and every one of the 15 injured were shot. We all bled with every scrap and cut each and every one of the 3,000 kids running out of that school received. I was in JROTC when it happened—not in the freshman building, but right next door. I was shot at. I wasn’t injured and I’m not dead, but I didn’t live. I survived. I can’t change the past and I certainly can’t make it go away. So I keep on surviving and, like learning to walk, I’m slowly but surely learning how to live again. Fifteen days feels like 15 minutes. I can still hear the gunshots when I close my eyes. I can still feel the panic in my chest from the panic attack. Emotionally, I’m still there. I’m clawing at the walls of my mind trying to escape, but I can’t. The one thing you can’t run from is yourself. I’m still in fight or flight. I’m still just surviving. — Caspen Becher, 14, freshman

March 5

I frequently get asked the question, “How are you?” My immediate response is, “I’m fine.” I am not actually fine, but I don’t really want to get into it and they probably don’t want to hear about it. There are many people around the school who would definitely help if we wanted them to, but I feel like they only know things from their book. They didn’t actually go through what we did. My friends have been there for me since that day. I have an incredible support system, and I don’t know how I would be if they weren’t there. — Jose Iglesias, 17, senior

March 6

At the time this was written, it was 12:34 in the morning. It’s gotten worse. I can barely sleep. Yesterday was a hard day for me. It became too much again. They give us the responsibilities and expectations of mentally stable, functioning adults but talk to and treat us like children and that is not O.K. We’re not O.K. We’re the depressed generation and we’re blamed for it. When the gun laws affect you by deciding whether you live or die at a place that we’re legally required to attend, it’s frustrating when we get no say and are just dismissed as children who are over dramatic and want attention. I stopped writing. It’s gotten harder and harder to keep going. — Caspen Becher, 14, freshman

Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat coordinated a surprise visit for the students on their first full day back at school on March 7.
Kyra Parrow

March 8

I heard this morning about another school shooting that occurred in Alabama yesterday. I didn’t really notice when things like this used to happen, but after going through something like that, we can sympathize with them. You don’t know what it is like unless you go through it. The fear of not knowing how many shooters there are, where they are, if your friends are dead—it changes you. Yesterday those students had to run or hide for their lives. This changed us. I was told to run, and then when I got to the back of the softball field, they told us to duck and get some cover. It was as if we were in the middle of a war zone. Texting your parents, your friends, your family how much you love them because you don’t know if you will ever see that person again changes you. It gives you a more positive perspective on life, but it also leaves you extremely traumatized. — Jose Iglesias, 17, senior

I’ve always wanted to be a politician when I grow up. I’m definitely looking forward to voting. What I predict will happen—well, definitely in Broward County—is every politician who doesn’t act on changing the gun laws will be voted out. And I hope that the rest of the country will vote out people who aren’t willing to take the steps. Just because I can’t vote doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference. I would like to say that my generation will fix the generations of the past and have world peace, but I also want to be realistic and know that history repeats itself. Am I hopeful? Yes. Is it possible that we can be the generation that makes the changes to gun laws? I would love that. But it’s hard to tell the future. I wish I had a crystal ball. — Brandon Abzug, 17, senior

March 9

On Friday, March 9th, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 7026. The bill is being cited as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.” The bill is said to have raised the legal age to buy a gun in Florida to 21, with the exception of active duty military. Governor Scott acknowledged the young activists of Stoneman Douglas, as well as my fellow classmates and me. This bill did more than allow our voices to be heard. It was a way of telling us they are listening. Since the Valentine’s Day tragedy, Douglas kids have been working, protesting and fighting as much as possible to have stricter gun laws. We do not want the same weapon that killed our classmates and friends to be put in the hands of our teachers. The “what if” situations are limitless. Even if a gun is not located inside of the classroom, students find ways to do nearly anything. Teachers should not be allowed to have a gun on them at school even after undergoing the 132 hours of training. — Sarah Stricker, 14, freshman

The first week has been rough, but it has also been healing. Seeing the empty desks is a struggle, and I hate knowing that I will never get to see them again. One thing that has really helped me is working on our yearbook. So far we are the first people to document this type of event in a yearbook. It is something that we are taking seriously, because this has to be done right. The support from the community has been amazing, however sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. We have received so many banners and letters from other schools that it is tough to read them all. We really do appreciate everything everyone has been doing for us. Being with my friends and just talking and laughing again has made it better. It’s comforting to know that everyone around you knows what you are going through. It makes it something that’s easy to talk about. — Alyson Sheehy, 18, senior

On March 14, Stoneman Douglas faculty members and students reflect on the past month’s experiences.
Rain Valladares
One month after the massacre, Westglades Middle School students take part in the National School Walkout by leaving class and meeting up with peers at Pine Trails Park, where memorials for each of the 17 victims were erected.
Rain Valladares

March 14

It’s been a month and maybe some people have forgotten, but we’re still here. We’re still protesting. We’re still working hard. We’re still remembering the victims. We’re still going to make sure change is going to happen. We’re not going to let these victims die in vain. — Taylor Morales, 18, senior

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