'This is about guns': Student survivors of Florida shooting demand action on U.S. gun laws

When the shots rang out at her Florida high school, Carly Novell hid in a closet for safety — just like her grandfather did to escape a 1949 shooting rampage in New Jersey. Now, in the aftermath of a massacre, she's one of several survivors demanding action on U.S. gun laws.

In the aftermath of a massacre, grief turns to anger as survivors demand change from lawmakers

'Stop talking about it and then not doing anything'

4 years ago
Carly Novell, a survivor of the Florida school shooting, talks to CNN about why thoughts and prayers are not enough to stop gun violence 0:45

When the shots rang out at her Florida high school, Carly Novell hid in a closet for safety — just like her grandfather did to escape a 1949 shooting rampage in New Jersey.

The Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School student recounted her harrowing two-hour ordeal in a tweet posted in the aftermath of a deadly massacre at the Parkland school that claimed the lives of 17 people.

Nearly 70 years ago, Novell's grandfather, Charles Cohen, did the same, when Howard Unruh gunned down 13 people, including Cohen's parents and grandmother during what was later called his Walk of Death through Camden.

So when conservative television commentator Tomi Lahren took to Twitter with calls to halt the debate over gun control in the wake of the shooting, it was doubly personal for Novell.

'You weren't there. You don't know'

"You weren't there. You don't know how it felt," she said. "Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This is about guns, and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns."

But while Novell survived, 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff was not so lucky.

Her mother Lori Alhadeff's raw grief was on full display on live television the evening after the shooting, when she called out U.S. President Donald Trump with demands for gun reform.

Grieving mother of Florida shooting victim makes emotional plea

4 years ago
Lori Alhadeff, who's 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed in the Florida school shooting, makes an emotional plea to President Trump about gun control 1:13

"You say, 'What can you do?' You can stop the guns from getting into these children's hands ...This is not fair to our families, that our children go to school and have to get killed."

Former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. On Thursday, he reportedly confessed he was responsible for the deadly school shooting, telling police he brought more loaded magazines to the school and kept them hidden in the backpack until he got on campus.

People leave a funeral service for Alyssa Alhadeff at the Star of David Funeral Chapel in North Lauderdale, Fla., Friday. Alhdeff's mother made an emotional plea Thursday to lawmakers to 'stop the guns from getting into these children's hands.' (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

As students began to flee, he said, he discarded his AR-15 rifle and a vest he was wearing so he could blend in with the crowd. Police recovered the rifle and the vest.

'Hatred and evil'

Trump is in Florida, with visits to Broward Health North hospital and the Broward County Sheriff's Office planned. He said Friday morning that residents are "some of the bravest people on Earth — but whose lives have been totally shattered."

Trump struck a solemn tone in a national address Thursday, describing a "scene of terrible violence, hatred and evil," and promising to "tackle the difficult issue of mental health." But on the issue of gun control, he remained silent. 

Ryan Schroy, 15, centre, bows his head in prayer as he embraces Dylan O'Neill, 15, right, both students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Survivors of the shooting have been vocal about gun control in the wake of the massacre. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Some of the teens pointed out the thousands in campaign contributions Trump and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have taken from the National Rifle Association.

A weeping 19-year-old Tyra Hemans held posters Thursday of her dead friends, along with one that said, "ENOUGH NO GUNS #GunReformNow."

"I decided to make these signs so that when Donald Trump visits Parkland he knows that this is what I want. I want Congress to understand he took 17 lives from me yesterday. My friend will literally never get to say 'I graduated high school,"' she said through tears.

Age limit didn't apply

It was just months after he turned 18 that Cruz went to a Florida gun store to buy a weapon. But there were limits on what he could purchase at his age.

Cruz wasn't old enough to buy any of the handguns at the store. But that age limit doesn't apply for rifles, shotguns or the AR-15, the weapon that was used in Wednesday's shooting.

Federal law requires someone to be at least 21 to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer but only 18 in most places to buy a long gun. In some states — mostly rural places with a strong tradition of hunting — you can buy a rifle at age 14 or 16.

That fact has revived the debate over age requirements for gun purchases in a country where a patchwork of laws and culture of hunting in some rural states often make it easier for teens to buy rifles than handguns. 

'Whatever it takes'

For the survivors who spoke to CBC's Steven D'Souza, debating the issue is not enough.

Emma Gonzales was in the school's auditorium when the bullets began flying in what would, within just six minutes, turn out to be one of the nation's deadliest school shootings. 

This Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 photo shows messages written by a group of Plant High School seniors on the sidewalk leading to their school in Tampa, Fla. "In addition to thoughts and prayers, action and policy need to take order," said senior Catarina Sterlacci. (James Borchuck/The Tampa Bay Times/Associated Press)

"They say, 'You don't think about it until it happens' — I was always thinking about it," she said Friday. "And now that it's happened, there's nothing that could have possibly made me angrier and more ready to do something.

"We're not going to just let the grief wash over us and then fade away. We're going to do something about it," Gonzales said. "If this has to become the poster child for fixing the gun problems in our community and nation, whatever it takes."

'Maybe that's the turning point'

Leonor Munoz, who was holed up with Gonzales, is approaching the legal voting age and says anyone against gun control won't be getting her vote. 

"None of us will vote for anything that's pro-guns, because there's no way that guns would have helped us in that situation," Munoz said.

"The kid had smoke bombs," she said of Cruz.

Munoz also said arming teachers would have done nothing if they couldn't distinguish individuals from each other. 

"More guns does not solve this problem, in the same way that firefighters don't bring more fire to stop fires," Munoz said.

Nikolas Cruz, centre, appears in court via video with Melisa McNeill, his public defender, at a bond hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,after being charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Cruz wasn't old enough to buy a gun, but legally purchased owned a rifle allegedly used in the attack at a Parkland school. (Susan Stocker/Reuters)

On average, more than 13,000 people are killed each year in the United States by guns. Most of those incidents involve handguns while a tiny fraction involve an AR-style firearm. Still, the AR plays an oversized role in many of the most high-profile shootings, including the June 2016 nightclub shooting in Orlando and the gunning down of 58 people last October at a country music festival in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Speaking outside Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School on Friday, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said he has been inspired by the students who have been demanding changes to make gun violence less likely.

"These kids are just terrific," Nelson said. "The fact that they are speaking up as boldly as they are, maybe that's the turning point. You haven't heard students speak up one after another after another after witnessing such carnage and speaking out with such conviction."

School shooting vigil fuelled by anger and grief

4 years ago
A vigil for the victims of yesterday's school shooting in Parkland, Fla., brought together a community overcome by anger and grief. Seventeen people were killed after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The attack has again reignited the debate about gun control in the U.S. 11:04

With files from The Associated Press