A Student Take: Brandon Dasent
In the week leading up to the March For Our Lives, we teamed up with student journalists Pedro Damasceno and David Morales from Pine Crest Upper School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to share the stories they recorded from the students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. In a society that often ignores its youth, we are here to amplify the students’ point of view. Interviewed below is Brandon Dasent, a survivor and activist from MSD High School.
David Morales: I’m with Brandon Dasent, a survivor of the tragedy, a friend in mourning, and someone looking for a change. First and foremost, Brandon, how are you doing?
BD: I am doing quite well, thank you! I hope you’re doing better.
DM: The onus of defining ourselves is ever-present; with that being said, who is Brandon Dasent?
BD: Right now, I’m someone who wants to see a drastic change in our government and the people who control it. I’m now doing all that I can to help with the movement against gun control and for the safety of this nation’s schools.
DM: How long have you been attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas? For those of us who don’t know Douglas beyond the tragedy, can you describe the overall environment of your school?
BD: I transferred to Douglas around this time of year last year. Douglas has always been a comfortable place for me. It’s open and welcoming. I still feel the same way. It’s just weird seeing police officers flood the hallways of our school every day. It’s offsetting seeing police cars and undercover cop cars parked inside of our school. It’s also weird not seeing people that you dabbed up or smile/laughed with every day in the halls; either because they’re afraid to come back or because they were one of the victims. Everyone’s coping in their own way, but we’re getting through this better than expected; at least it seems that way for now.
DM: Take me back to February 14th, 2018.
BD: February 14th was such a good day. Everything was literally perfect. Everyone was smiling. Everyone seemed happy! Oversized balloons and laughter filled the hallways. My girlfriend and I actually got into a little bit of an argument towards the end of the day because she was jealous of some girl, but… that’s high school! Arguing over petty stuff was a lifestyle at Douglas. I was by the 700 building which is right next to the freshmen building. I usually went to my creative writing class (which I had the period before) towards the last 20 minutes of school to chill with people in that period. By God’s hand, I fell asleep during the last 20-30 minutes of class. If I didn’t, I would’ve been on my way up the stairwell of the freshmen building as the shooting began. I woke up to the fire alarm. In a daze, I took the time to bring my backpack with me as I left the room. As soon as I walked outside the classroom, I heard a loud sound. I assumed that someone dropped a laptop cart or that someone was banging on the old lockers downstairs! But as we got to the field behind the school, we heard people talking about there being a shooter on campus; I didn’t take any of the rumblings seriously until I started hearing a flood of police sirens and a news helicopter flying towards our school. To evacuate to Walmart, we had to crawl through a long trail of bushes between the fence that encompassed the football field and a massive canal. People were pushing kids into the canal that were holding up the line by Snapchat-ing the events; people were jumping the gate to run to their cars. I helped my ex-girlfriend jump the gate so that she and her friend could get to Walmart with more ease. While doing this, my current girlfriend called out my name from the crowd about 10 meters behind me. Seeing that I couldn’t turn back, I had to wait outside of Walmart to reunite with her and her friend. Her friend was crying hysterically because her younger cousin was in one of the first classrooms to be shot up. While at Walmart, we watched people’s Snapchat stories of bullets flying through their classrooms and dead bodies spread across the floor.
DM: 17 lives were taken that day. Did you know any of the victims personally?
BD: I knew Helena, Guac, Feis, and Hixon. Guac and I were cool! We weren’t best friends or anything. We met at a football game, and he and his friend looked at me and expressed how funny my SoundCloud was! From that point forward, we just dabbed each other up in the hallways; had small talk here and there. Helena was one of my girlfriend’s best friends. She was also close friends with many of my friends, so we had known each other for a little while. She was exceptionally bright and had a beautiful sense of humor. Whenever my girlfriend would have anxiety attacks after a classroom presentation, Helena would always comfort her and wrap her jacket around her shoulders. Like who does that? She was amazing. I knew Feis, mostly because he’d get on me for skating in the hallways but he was always chill about everything! Coach Hixon was almost my wrestling coach, but I had to stop going to his meetings to focus on theatre. Everyone who lost their lives that day had such a brilliant future ahead of them. They were all unique and gifted in their distinct ways.
DM: What can you tell me about the shooter?
BD: I didn’t know him personally. I recently discovered that he watched my Snapchat stories and that he worked at the Dollar Tree right down the street from my house. However, some of my friends hung out with him almost every week at Walmart after school. They were always sketched out by him because of some of the things he’d say or do. For instance, he used to kill squirrels and staple their tails to his lunch box. That’s… pretty weird? No one ever thought much of it though. People always joked about him being a school shooter or a serial killer, but never took these early signs as seriously as they could have.
DM: What would you say to the shooter if you had the chance to speak to him?
BD: I’d tell him that I forgive him. I don’t want to harbor any more hatred in my heart for him; it’s not healthy. He doesn’t deserve peace, but the rest of us do. We can’t achieve any peace with hate in our hearts.
DM: What was it like coming back to school?
BD: The first day of school was super intense for everybody. There were hoards of police everywhere. Grief counselors flooded the hallways along with comfort dogs. At least 80 percent of us cried at one point during the day. It still hasn’t hit some people, not sure why…. but it will soon. And the media. The media was everywhere.
DM: Since the tragedy, how have your thoughts about all aspects of the situation developed? Be it political or ethical.
BD: The entire situation initially left me feeling helpless and infuriated, but now I’m more focused on helping to ensure that this never happens again. This situation also made me realize how powerful money is. The fact that these politicians would prefer money from corporations such as the NRA rather than protecting the lives of their future is actually astonishing! Not to mention heartbreaking.
DM: Which side are you on?
BD: Without a single doubt, I’m all for gun control. As well as the banning of assault rifles/weapons of war.
DM: How is the community of Parkland coping with such a horrific event?
BD: We’re doing better. We’re never going to be the same, that’s for sure! I think it’s essential that we all get help instead of turning to drugs like a lot of students that face tragedies like this. Our parents are the ones that are the most scared though. My mother woke up crying every day for a while. The students are mostly enraged, rather than scared.
DM: What changes are essential for the betterment of this country?
BD: Honestly, we just want policies that protect us and our country from people who can’t responsibly own guns. Most importantly, we need safer schools! We need more security, our teachers need substantial raises, we need trained armed officials on campus who aren’t cowards, we just need to be safe instead of “feeling comfortable”.
DM: Brandon, what actions should students and adults take to ensure this never happens again?
BD: Students need to do whatever they’re able to do and join the momentum of the movement. We need to keep the pressure on these politicians. Most of us should already be registering to vote! We need people with souls and common sense in office. Adults along with students should donate as much money as they can to the right politicians so that they don’t feel the need to gravitate towards organizations like the NRA for money. For right now, please donate to the families of the victims. Anthony Borges is still in the hospital, and his bill has surpassed $1,000,000. We need to offer him all the help we can give.
Featured image courtesy of Pedro Damasceno
Stay tuned to Milk for more from the forefront of anti-gun violence activism.