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'Our innocence has been taken': In wake of Florida school shooting, survivors demand change

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The students who survived the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are now among those leading the charge for reform. (CNN, AP)

As the nation struggles to move forward after a violent massacre that left 17 high school students and faculty members dead, the anguished teenaged survivors have emerged as some of the strongest and most compelling voices for change.

At a Saturday afternoon gun-control rally in nearby Fort Lauderdale, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez continued her dayslong plea for progress in an impassioned address.

Gonzalez pushed back against President Donald Trump and others who claim the uptick in gun violence is a direct result of a mental health crisis that can be solved by more robust public health programs.

"I am not a psychologist, but we need to pay attention to the fact that this isn't just a mental health issue. He wouldn't have harmed that many students with a knife," she said to applause.

She also responded to a statement Trump made on Twitter on Thursday that landed poorly with many who felt he was blaming others at the school for not reporting suspect Nikolas Cruz's behavior to authorities.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!" Trump wrote.

Gonzalez urged people to "stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter's fault," specifically calling out "people who let him buy the guns in the first place, those at the gun shows and the people who encouraged him to buy accessories to make them fully automatic."

Senior Delaney Tarr, who just days ago was worried about Valentine's Day flowers, college acceptances and prom dresses, gave a sobering account of how her life has changed since surviving the violence.

"Now I'm a high school senior who is worried about which memorials I need to place flowers at. Now I'm focused on what clothes I can wear so that I can run away from gunfire. My main concerns are funerals, gun control, and whether or not I'm going to be shot wherever I go," she said. "My innocence - our innocence - has been taken away from us."

In the days since the shooting, multiple students have also pushed back against lawmakers offering thoughts and prayers, demanding instead immediate legislation to prevent further instances of gun violence.

"Now is the time that we say thank you for your prayers and condolences, but that is not enough," Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior David Hogg said at the same rally. "We've been hearing the same thing again and again, and the same thing continues to happen. We say, 'Stop it today.'"

Fellow student Sarah Chadwick did not mince words when she addressed the same topic in a now-deleted tweet posted shortly after the shooting.

"I don't want your condolences you [expletive], my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead," Chadwick tweeted to Trump. "Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won't fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again."

Chadwick has since apologized for the language she used and extended an invitation to Trump to discuss gun control during an upcoming visit to Parkland.

"@realDonaldTrump hello I'm the 16 year old girl who tweeted you that I didn't want your condolences, I wanted gun control, and went viral because of it. I heard you are coming to my community soon. I would love for you to hear my opinions on gun control in person. - a survivor," Chadwick wrote.

The Parkland students join survivors and families of victims from countless other tragedies who have been pushed into action. Family members of those killed in the Sandy Hook shooting have since founded Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit aimed at protecting children from gun violence. Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to advocate for gun reform after she survived a 2011 assassination attempt that left six people dead and more than a dozen injured.

Related Topics:
parkland school shootingschool shootinggun violenceu.s. & worldfloridateenagers