The aerial video from that day showed students leaving Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in organized, single-file lines, hands up on the shoulders of the classmate in front of them. It’s an image many of us will never forget.
Those who were inside the 1200 building have much darker pictures ingrained in their memories.
“There was a lot of screaming in my classroom, of course the bullets were tremendously loud, I don’t know how many bullets came into my room but it just felt like it never stopped, you know?” said Daniela Menescal, who was a junior at the time.
“Ever since the shooting, I’ve had horrible PTSD, I’ve had to deal with a lot of stuff, the trauma has been horrible,” said Haley Betancourt, who is a senior now, a freshman when the rampage occurred.
The survivors of the war zone have stories which even three years later, are hard to fully comprehend.
Daniela is in college now, but she literally carries a piece of that day with her. She has bullet fragments embedded in her body. Daniela says she assumed it was a drill, how could someone actually be firing a real assault rifle at her and her classmates?
“But that’s when I, like, saw blood in the floor and my pants were filled with blood and I was like, oh, maybe this is for real,” Daniela said.
Haley was like most freshmen, enjoying Valentines Day as the school day wound down. They were in the last period before dismissal. We spoke to her the day after the massacre at Pine Trails Park, where students were gathering for grief counseling. She said six of her friends had just died, including two from her classroom.
“They were in my classroom when to happened and they just ran out, so that was the last time I saw them, we were just joking around...” Haley said in 2018, before bursting into tears.
Speaking again this week, it’s clear that for Haley, the trauma of that experience has barely dissipated.
“I remember calling my dad and in that moment I remember just the thoughts through my head, I was just saying wow this is the last time I’m probably gonna hear from my father before I pass away and I think about that a lot,” Haley said, tears filling her eyes. “I just remember telling him, Papi, there’s a shooter here and I love you very much and I’m sorry for everything bad I’ve ever done.”
When you talk to students who went through the worst, who heard the shots and the screaming and saw things kids should never see, you find they all have some degree of survivor’s guilt.
“Miracles happen,” Daniela said. “Like I believe that I might’ve been a miracle and I have a second chance so I just have to make the best out of it, you know?”
“I want to know why I was spared, but like, I’ll never know, it’s just really hard to live with that, knowing that you let all these people die and you couldn’t do anything,” Haley said.
These two young women each told us they want to become mental health therapists, to help people like themselves who have experienced severe trauma.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re still feeling hopeless or sad,” Daniela said.
Nothing can change what happened inside the 1200 building on February 14th, 2018, but with support and determination, the kids who walked out can move on.