New Brunswick

Moncton man struggles to come to terms with shooting at Florida school he attended

A Moncton man who grew up in Florida and graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is mourning the 17 victims of the shooting this week.

J.B. Vanier 'glad to be in Canada' as he and friends from high school mourn 17 victims

Students held onto other students as they made their way out past helmeted police in camouflage with weapons drawn. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A Moncton man who grew up in Florida and graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is mourning the 17 victims of the shooting this week.

J.B. Vanier graduated from the Parkland, Fla., high school in 2005 and now works in Moncton as the theatre director at the School of Atlantic Ballet.

Vanier played football in high school and knew shooting victim Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and a security guard.

"I had already stopped doing football by the time he had joined, but I still knew him through friends on the team and he was also security," Vanier said. "I had a couple of run ins with him as a student for other shenanigans."

"He was truly dedicated to his work and to the people and the students. A lot of my friends were longtime members of the football team … he was very inspirational to them."

Shooting unimaginable to Vanier

Moncton's J.B. Vanier grew up in Florida and graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2005. He is mourning the victims of the school shooting, some of whom he knew. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Growing up in Florida in the 1990s, Vanier said, he lived in some "tough" neighbourhoods, where there was gang violence, but by the time he reached high school his family had moved to Coral Springs, just south of Parkland.

Vanier's mind immediately went back to his time there when he heard that a 19-year-old man turned up at his old school with a semi-automatic rifle on Wednesday and started shooting.

 'It really hits you pretty hard.'- Moncton  resident J.B. Vanier

"You think back to what high school was for you," he said. "And that place was such an important place for us growing up.

"It felt very safe so it just didn't make sense."

Vanier said that after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, he and his classmates became used to safety drills but never took them seriously.

Until now, such a violent act at the high school he attended was unimaginable, he said.

"When I found out that it was the 18th school shooting this year … you don't even know what to say."

"The amount of children … who are supposed to feel safe so they can learn and better themselves and become good citizens are under a constant state of duress and fear — it is overwhelming to think you have to deal with that when you were that age."

Keeps thinking of students

The Quebec-born Vanier, who doesn't have U.S. citizenship, returned to Canada when he was 21.

He said he has been in constant contact with many of his classmates this week, but as he reminisces about his own high school days he can't stop thinking of the current students.

The vigil began with a moment of silence for those slain. Audible sobs rose from the crowd as the names of victims were read. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

"You see old pictures of when you were in high school and it's nice, but then it's also, 'Were we that young when we were in high school?' And then you think those kids are that age ... it really hits you pretty hard."

Since the shootings, the community support for people in Parkland has been "amazing," Vanier said.

"There's just been an outpouring of support and love. They had a vigil last night in Parkland, and I think there were more people than live in Parkland … the pictures are pretty amazing."

Vanier said the conversation among his friends has turned to the politics of gun control, with most of them in favour of stronger regulations.

"I loved growing up there," Vanier said of Florida.

"When I moved to Canada I did not want to be here at all. But since then — moving to Canada let me find my passion, make new friends. It's more I'm glad to be in Canada as opposed to not wanting to be in the States."

with files from Information Morning Moncton