‘Valentine’s Day is never going to be the same’: Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni at FAU reflect on last year’s shooting

Alumni are still healing a year after the shooting that killed 17 people.

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‘Valentine’s Day is never going to be the same’: Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni at FAU reflect on last year’s shooting

Kristen Grau and James Madera

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Editor’s note | James Madera is a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni.

Bryan Pozuelos-Gomez was dialing the number of Parkland’s hospital “left and right,” he said, on Feb. 14, 2018.

Gomez, an FAU sophomore business major, had graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas two years prior. He had no siblings at the school; no immediate reason to call. He was calling to find out if one his best friends’ brothers, Martin Duque Anguiano, was ok.

After a frenzied drive from his class in Boca to the yellow-taped streets in Parkland to check on his brother in a neighboring middle school, Pozuelos-Gomez discovered Anguiano wasn’t ok.

The 14-year-old’s tan, smiling face that lived two houses down from him was one of the 17 victims whose names would be echoed on TV for weeks.

“Valentine’s Day is never going to be the same,” Pozuelos-Gomez said. “You can never forget something so tragic.”

A year ago today, just about 15 miles from FAU, 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in a mass shooting and dozens of victims’ friends and family members were traumatized. Alumni of the school who are now at FAU are still feeling ripples of the tragedy in their everyday lives — even if they were 15 miles away at the time.  

The aftermath

Classes at FAU had “tension in the air” on Feb. 15, said Ali Hamadeh, an FAU junior biology major and 2016 Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate.

“You know that feeling after a war on TV? It [felt] like that,” he said.

Hamadeh said it was a “surreal” feeling walking to and from classes while running into some of his fellow high school classmates, whom he regularly bumps into on campus.

One of those classmates is a junior biology major and 2016 MSD graduate named Safiyyah Mir. She said the shooting made her more “cognizant” of schools’ and colleges’ seemingly lackadaisical approach toward letting people on school grounds.

“It didn’t really change my sense of safety, so much as it made me more aware,” she said. “FAU is pretty open. Anyone can just walk on campus or into classrooms if they wanted to.”

After Parkland, former Florida Gov. Rick Scott passed laws intended to make schools safer in a bill called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act. The laws enacted last March raised the age to buy a firearm in Florida from 18 to 21 and gave local officials the power to decide if teachers in their area should be armed.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that Douglas has implemented safety features of its own: extra security cameras and personnel, new fencing, and doors requiring ID to enter.

But despite all the changes in gun legislation and school security across the state, some of those affected still have the tragedy shoved in their face, even a year later.

FAU sophomore business management major Curtis Landry graduated from MSD in 2017. His younger brother currently attends the school, which means they’re still bombarded with media requests.

“The tragedy still affects me, as it was an attack on innocent students,” Landry said. “ I wish the news crews would stop bothering my brother and his friends for interviews that they have no interest in giving.”

A new perspective

Legislation isn’t the only thing that’s shifted since the shooting. Many alumni say that people’s behaviors and perspectives have changed.

For example, Hamadeh said that merely the mention of a “school shooter” can pull at student’s emotions.

“Before, when you hear about it on TV, a lot of people would make jokes about it … now it’s not like that — especially among the people who’ve experienced it,” he said. “If someone says … ‘Oh, that guy looks like a school shooter,’ even if they laugh a little, they kind of give them that look like [it’s] not ok to say because it actually is real and that actually does happen.”

These jokes cause people everywhere to “disregard” mental illness, he said. But now, he hopes that this will cause people to quit the jokes and take  “the warning signs” less lightly.

Since Parkland, schools across the state ramped their mental health funding by millions upon discovering the shooter’s “troubling” past.

“The tragedy made me realize that schools need to be safer and these kinds of threats should always be taken seriously,” Landry said.

A community united

After the shooting, FAU held vigils and concerts in support of Parkland’s students — but some of MSD alum at FAU’s most supportive assets were each other.

Activists from Douglas like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky showed them that “kids can have an impact on society,” Hamadeh said.

Gonzalez, Hogg, and Kasky founded March For Our Lives, a series of marches to protest gun violence that rapidly spawned in several other states.

Mir participated in the original March For Our Lives event in Parkland last March. While Mir did not personally know any of the victims, the camaraderie she developed with her peers and faculty while at MSD is something she never lost sight of.

“I felt I should be there to support my community and those who were directly impacted by the shooting,” she said. “Even though nothing could be done to ease their pain, I thought if as many people as possible showed their support, it would help in providing comfort.”

MSD alumni reconnected at FAU after what happened, Hamadeh said. Rather than turning toward formal resources, they found reassurance in simply catching up with one another.

Pozuelos-Gomez said he’ll try to go fishing with his friend soon to help him cope with the anniversary of Duque’s loss — like he did when it was an open wound.

“We’re huge fishing guys … If I wasn’t at school, we would sit at the park and laugh,” he said, “and try not to think about it.”

FAU Counseling and Psychological Services crisis line: 561-297-3540

Kristen Grau is the features editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @_kristengrau.

James Madera is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].