March 23, 2018 / 5:40 PM / in a month

Parkland students scarred, determined after lives changed forever

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) - Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Madeline Gaffney, Diego Pfeiffer and Kayla Sanseverino were normal teens focused on homework and college applications before last month’s mass shooting catapulted them into the U.S. debate on gun rights.

As they prepare for Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” rallies in Washington and elsewhere calling for tighter regulations on guns, the students said they were still coping with the anxiety that comes with surviving a violent crime.

“I don’t do as many outside activities any more,” said Gaffney, a 17-year-old junior who liked to run and go to the gym regularly before losing a friend in the Feb. 14 shooting, which claimed the lives of 17 students and educators in Parkland, Florida.

Pfeiffer, an 18-year-old senior, said he now scans restaurants and shopping plazas for potential danger and found himself looking over his shoulder in school hallways when classes resumed last month after the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

“I definitely look around, take in my surroundings a little more just to make sure that I can catch whatever I can, and I’ve never done that before,” he said. 

Balancing his newfound activism and student life has been difficult at times, Pfeiffer said. When he is in school, he feels like his time could be better spent talking to lawmakers about gun control or trying to engage fellow young voters.

He said the movement for tighter firearms controls, galvanized by survivors of the shooting, has shown his classmates that they can have an impact on the political process.

Maddie Gaffrey, a 17-year-old junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is holding a picture of her friend Luke Hoyer who was killed in the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., in this still image from video on March 18, 2018. Picture taken on March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jillian Kitchener

“Now we have a reason, there are people saying you need to go out there and you need to make a difference,” he said.

Sanseverino, 16, said she wants to pursue a career in child psychology, with the aim of helping children before they become so troubled they turn to violence.

The suspect in the Parkland shooting, former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, had a history of mental issues, numerous encounters with police and was expelled from Stoneman Douglas last year for disciplinary problems.

“School safety helps our schools, but what about movie theaters, what about clubs, what about in the grocery store? We can’t protect everywhere,” said Sanseverino, a junior who will march in Amelia Island, Florida, on Saturday.

Gaffney and Pfeiffer, who will both march in Washington, said their activism is only beginning.

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“We’re just not going to go away,” Pfeiffer said.

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; editing by Colleen Jenkins

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