Parkland students quietly process shooting trauma

Jennifer Kay, Adriana Gomez Licon
Associated Press

Parkland, Fla. – When freshman Eden Hebron wanted to capture the searing experience of being in a classroom where a fellow student killed her best friend and three other people, she turned to poetry. The result was “1216,” named after the number of the room at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:

“The screams blasting in my ear. The blood still won’t disappear. I scream their names, call for my friends. Nothing else to do, they are gone, they are dead.”

The community at Marjory Stoneman Douglas has become best-known for the handful of charismatic students who have channeled their grief and outrage over the Feb. 14 shooting to reignite the national debate on gun control. But most of the 3,000-plus students are coming to terms with the trauma in quieter ways – writing poetry, filming documentaries, reconstructing the crime scene and trying to balance their memories with the need to move on.

The attack that ultimately claimed 17 lives began in the hallway outside Hebron’s honors English class. No one had time to take cover. Two of her slain classmates had tried to hide under the same classroom table that shielded her. In the shower, she sometimes still feels as trapped as she did that day, when she witnessed the death of her best friend, 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff.

If the poem helps express her pain, a new tattoo illustrates her efforts to move forward. While on spring break in Israel, she had a heart-shaped stem with flower petals and the classroom number drawn onto her left leg.

“The stem represents the growth that I have gone through,” she said. “It’s still healing.”

Freshman Samantha Deitsch also used poetry to document her shock at the loss of her 14-year-old friend, Jamie Guttenberg.

“I frantically start typing a text to her,” she wrote. “I have some hope sending ‘ARE YOU OKAY???’ Less than one minute later my hope faded away. She has been confirmed dead. Emotions fill up as I can’t feel my head.”

The poem helped her persuade her older brothers, who are among Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ leading advocates for gun control, to include her in their advocacy with the Never Again group; they initially excluded her, trying to protect her from the online trolling they were experiencing.

A student-led project “Stories Untold” is recording details from the shooting in video interviews. Project member Giuliana Matamoros, a junior, said the gun control movement that now seems headquartered in Parkland needs more voices to be successful.

“Without the stories, without the vivid details, they won’t know how traumatizing it is to see all that stuff,” she said.

Junior Ivanna Paitan has conducted “investigations” with classmates in her Advanced Placement Psychology class, where she had been trapped by gunfire under her teacher’s podium. In long discussions, sometimes during class time, students delve into every detail of the mass shooting again and again, trying to figure out exactly what happened, and why.

Their investigations have produced a reconstruction of part of the crime scene – a hand-drawn layout of Room 1213, with squares illustrating desks, tables and other classroom fixtures. .

Reconstructing their experiences of Feb. 14 can be cathartic as students try to make sense of their brushes with death, according to psychiatrist Dr. Francisco Cruz, who is affiliated with the Florida-based Ketamine Health Centers.

“Those that are able to do that are able to get through the experience much better than those who isolate and avoid … the ones that aren’t willing to confront it,” Cruz said.

But he warned that reliving the experience also can be re-traumatizing if not done in a therapeutic way.