When Haley Stylman Krul’s ten-year-old daughter Ava handed her mother a list of changes she wanted made to American gun laws, the 41-year-old mother was heartbroken. “A little girl shouldn’t know about this.”
Unfortunately, since February 14, when Ava’s sister Dani was caught up in the deadly attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, fear and activism have been the new normal for residents of Parkland, Florida. Dani and her mother are travelling to Washington DC for tomorrow’s March for Our Lives protest organised by the shooting’s survivors, at which half a million are expected.
Dani, 13, an eighth grader at Westglades Middle — part of the open-air complex that includes the school where the shooting took place — spent three hours locked in a bathroom with 20 classmates after 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire with an AR-14 rifle.
She doesn’t want to talk about her experiences, but her mother recalls, “That day at 2.30pm I got a text from Dani: ‘Don’t be worried but we’re on lockdown with the police… I don’t know if it’s a drill.’” Krul had been hearing sirens all day but thought the police were after speeders. Dani subsequently texted the surreal words: “I think it’s real.”
The mother and daughter texted back and forth, Krul learning of the magnitude of the attack from television. “I probably over-shared with Dani, texting things like, ‘I heard 7 are dead.’ Your mind doesn’t think coherently at a time like that.”
Since a relative of Krul’s was a first responder, she knew a long time before official reports that the shooter was in custody, news she swiftly relayed to her daughter, who was in the bathroom for another two hours.
The family wasn’t reunited until 5.45pm. Later that night, Dani, a child who, according to her mother, “expresses no emotion ever about anything” had an anxiety attack. She slept in bed with her parents for the next few nights.
Five weeks later, Krul says: “I don’t want her to be fearful. I want my daughter to feel she’s part of history.”
To Krul, history is a continuum, a string of events that cause similar reactions. The son of one of her friends saw two classmates shot. His mother keeps wishing his pain and horrific memories would dissipate. Krul, grandchild of Holocaust survivors, knows better:
“These kids live with survivor’s guilt. Like my grandparents who made it out alive but suffered a lifetime of PTSD, it’s ever-present.”
The lesson Krul imparts to both her daughters is, “We must fight harder so it never happens again.”
For Marjory Stoneman Douglas tenth grader Emily Wolfman, 16, her experience on February 14, hearing the gunshots hit the nearby Freshman Building (“it sounded like cranes falling”) while cowering in a closet with 35 classmates, left her needing to do something in her own way: “I didn’t want to leave the closet even when the SWAT team came in because the closet felt safe.”
She explained: “The depth of my feelings go beyond my background or religion or race. This is my home, my school, my community… We were broken and I need to do whatever I can to fix it.”
Wolfman, who is also headed to Washington DC for the march with her parents and two brothers, searched her soul to determine the best direction for her budding activism.
“My way is not to speak out. I’m not the kind of person who will go up to a newscaster and say, ‘Hey, interview me.’”
Since her interests revolve around business and advertising, Wolfman and her mother began working with two companies, Lifetoken and Mantraband, to design and sell bracelets. One says NEVER AGAIN; the other, the school motto BE POSITIVE, BE PASSIONATE, BE PROUD. More than 750 have been sold thus far, with proceeds going to the surviving victims and their families.
While Wolfman has no desire to speak into a television camera, she is proud to speak to politicians one to one to advocate for change. Last month, she boarded a bus sponsored by her temple, Congregation Kol Tikvah, to join fellow students in a “Never Again” rally for gun control held in Tallahassee, Florida.
She says: “This was the first time we were talking to adults, not just sharing on Twitter. Talking to state representatives from the perspective of a victim, not just someone watching on TV, what it is like to be in that closet, terrified, makes it seem real.”
And Wolfman adds proudly, “We got a bill passed!”
No one personally affected by the shooting on February 14 will ever be the same again. To a person they have broken pieces that will be patched together, cracks showing.
Wolfman says, “I’m a little paranoid. When I have kids, I’ll be scared to send them to school.”
But she will send them. Survivors go on. Krul, whose ten-year-old daughter stays up at night thinking of gun laws she wants to change, says, “We will be marching Saturday so one day it will be a distant memory that automatic weapons used to be sold for recreation.”
The bracelets are on sale at https://lifetoken.com/products/neveragain-bracelet-1