Four years later: How an MSD survivor found her home at FAU

The University Press sat down with Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate Maddie King, who described her experience on the day of the tragedy and how she found a home at FAU.


Courtesy of Maddie King

MSD survivor Maddie King at an FAU football game in Fall 2021.

Justine Kantor, News Editor

Content warning: The following article contains descriptions of a mass-casualty event that some readers may find distressing. 

Maria Burgos remembers where she was when she heard about the news that struck the nation four years ago: former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 students and injuring 17 more.

“I was in the car with my mom and younger brother driving home from school when they first announced it on the radio,” said Burgos, a freshman biological sciences major. “I remember feeling incredibly shocked and scared.”  

Unlike Burgos, Maddie King — a junior at the time — was inside MSD when the shooting occurred. Four years later, King feels she has finally found peace in her new home: FAU.

King still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but says she receives support from the FAU community.

“Sometimes I’m just sitting in class and I feel like there’s someone stalking the hallway or sometimes I’ll just be sitting and all of a sudden feel like, ‘oh something bad is about to happen; I have to hide.’ Fire alarms also really get me,” King said.

King was in class completing an assignment with a peer when the fire alarm sounded.

“We had a lot of false alarms in the past year… so we were moseying around, and then we hear three loud pops and all of [us] just stop and freeze, and we are all like ‘what was that’ and we are all kind of looking around, and then everyone is like ‘all right, maybe we should just get out,’” King said. “I started walking out the door, and there were three more pops, and at that point, I was like, ‘that’s gunfire.'”

As King and her classmates darted back into the room, she saw her teacher was frozen in place, pointing towards a corner where they went to hide. As King hid, she borrowed a classmate’s phone to text her mother.

“Getting that message from her took my breath away, both because of what she was experiencing and in relief that she was safe,” said Maddie’s mother, Tanna King. “It still does, because now I know many families whose children were not safe and it reminds me how lucky we were that day.” 

After over an hour of huddling with her classmates, law enforcement arrived to evacuate King’s class. 

“It is the only time that I have ever truly, fervently prayed. ‘Please, God, let this be someone helping us,'” King said.

Once law enforcement confirmed that the shooter was not in King’s class, she went home. 

“I knew a lot of them,” King said, reflecting on the students that died. “There was no one at the school who did not know one of the kids, at the very least.” 

After two weeks out of school, students returned to Stoneman Douglas for classes. 

“There was this atmosphere of ‘something happened here,’” she said. 

King’s parents offered her the option to switch schools, but she chose to stay.

“I can’t imagine going anywhere else. At Douglas, all 3,500 people who were on campus experienced it. They understand. I feel like because we all experienced it, we were able to move [forward] together,” King said. 

King’s graduation picture from MSD. Photo Courtesy of Maddie King

After graduating in 2019, King continued her education at FAU because of its proximity to home.

“I wasn’t ready to fully leave home yet… I was like, ‘I’m going to go try FAU and if I don’t like it, I can just transfer somewhere’ and I ended up just falling in love and it turned out to be a great place for me,” King said. “I came here and found another community of friends who are willing to deal with [me] when I have flashbacks.”

She says that her friends are supportive when she experiences PTSD symptoms.

“Whenever she is reminded of the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas, it saddens [me] to see her shutdown,” said King’s friend, Shane Falco.

King also found the campus community to be especially understanding. In her first year at the university, one of her professors did not require her to take an exam on the anniversary of the shooting. Instead, the professor gave her a week-long window to complete the exam.

Because the university is in close proximity to Parkland, King believes people are more respectful when she tells them she attended MSD.

“Even when people are curious, everyone is so respectful. I know if I said I’d rather not talk about it, people would be like ‘okay,'” King said.

Now, King is in her third year at FAU as a communication studies major and sociology minor.

“I feel proud that I’ve made it this far, and that everyone from Douglas has made it this far. There were two associated suicides but honestly, I’m proud that there were only two, because I know a lot of us thought there were going to be more,” said King.

King speaks at a 2018 March For Our Lives rally in Denver, Colo.

Justine Kantor is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected], or message her on twitter @KantorJustine.