A Student Take: Bryan Herrera
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 Bryan Herrera, a survivor and activist from MSD High School.
David Morales: An essential part of the #NeverAgain movement is the students that are brave enough to seek a difference in our country’s legislation. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with survivor and advocate for change: Bryan Herrera.
DM: Bryan, what is your story?
BH: Well I’m 17 years old, and I’m a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School. I’m on the High School Varsity soccer team and take part in the drama program. This is my first year at Douglas, it took a while to get adjusted to the school but I was received with open arms and I grew to love it. I grew up in Miami and Hialeah and moved to Coral Springs and Parkland five years ago. It was difficult getting used to such a huge school with so many people but my friends made me feel welcomed and loved.
DM: February 14th, 2018. Every single student has a different perspective on the events that transpired. What did the shooting look like through your lens?
BH: I was in our theater class when the shooting began, which is located about 20-25 feet away from the freshman building. When the fire alarm went off everybody got up and I was one of the last ones to rise. Five seconds later I see my classmates sprinting inside screaming “Hide,” “Get Back,” “It’s a shooter.” Immediately we all ran into the closet and turned of all of the lights and sat in silence. About 15 seconds later we began hearing the thunderous sounds of bullets as if they were in the room. It was about 55 students in a closet with no air conditioning in pure silence. People around me started to cry and pray as they texted their loved ones. I made sure to text my family and then began to pray. Five minutes later we heard footsteps and noises outside the other room that connects to the closet, we then saw the door handle move up and down as the shooter tried to open it but ultimately gave up and left. We were constantly looking at our phones for news but none was given. We sat there in silence for nearly four hours while every slight noise made my heart skip a beat. Thankfully the SWAT team busted down the door and saved us. There were so many moments where I felt that I was going to die. The feeling of impending doom collided with the constant fear of not knowing whether or not he would show up again. When the shots were fired, when he tried to enter the closet, and the hours after where we sat there defenseless, I felt death approaching. When we finally left the building and started sprinting towards the street, we were almost blinded by the bright rays of the sun in our eyes. The traffic was insane and my friend’s parent gave us a ride home. I just remember the feeling of being in a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. We were still waiting in the closet not knowing whether or not we were going to die or not. I remember falling onto my couch and just crying for hours on hours.
DM: How have you personally been impacted by this tragedy?
BH: It has personally affected me in many different ways. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically. I cannot even describe in words how I felt at times. My heart was truly broken and my faith tested. My entire outlook on life has changed and all of us students are still dealing with the aftermath of this horror. After it happened I couldn’t eat at all for two days, I felt sick and weak throughout my entire body. Every time I would try and eat I couldn’t even get close to finishing. I would be scared to be in the house by myself and I couldn’t sleep, I still have problems sleeping at times. But thanks to my friends and family I’ve been able to push through it.
DM: Does the shooter deserve forgiveness?
BH: Absolutely not, what he did is unforgivable. Simple as that, what he did is unforgivable and he is far beyond saving now.
DM: Seventeen beautiful lives. Seventeen people that walked the same hallways you do. Seventeen people who woke up that morning not knowing that it would be their last day on this Earth. Seventeen people who had families, friendships, and amazing futures ahead of them. Did you know any of these victims?
BH: I knew two people. Alyssa Alhadeff was an amazing girl and I would talk to her all the time in the hallway and hung out with her outside of school and I’m absolutely destroyed by her death. Also Martin Duque, a brother of my high school teammate Alex and my heart goes out to him and his beautiful family.
DM: Do the words “Marjory Stoneman Douglas” carry a different meaning than they previously did?
BH: Before it was just the school I went to, just somewhere I go to do schoolwork and talk to friends, somewhere I played soccer after school and enjoyed myself. Now it has a much deeper meaning in my heart, I feel a connection to the school and to the students and staff in it.
DM: What was it like walking through those same hallways for the first time after this tragedy?
BH: It was extremely emotional and surreal to walk in those halls again, feeling as if the entire world is watching you yet at the same time you feel so alone. Yet with the help of the entire community we were able to get through it.
DM: When an event of such gravity strikes, the recovery process is extremely difficult. For the Douglas students and the community of Parkland, how are you guys moving passed this tragedy?
BH: We are getting better. Slowly but surely, it’s certainly not easy by any means. With help with many outside organizations and individuals through the good of their hearts students are beginning to feel happiness again, yet it will be a long time before we truly feel safe at school.
DM: Will you be attending the March of Our Lives in Washington, D.C.?
BH: Yes, I will be at the march for our lives in Washington, D.C.
DM: What do you expect to come out of this movement?
BH: I expect for our government to take notice and take our thoughts into consideration while they look to create legislation to make schools safer for everyone in our country. This should never happen again.
DM:What is your stance on gun control?
BH: I believe that we need stricter gun laws especially when it comes to background checks, we need common sense gun laws so military grade weapons are not as easy to obtain for people who are exhibiting signs of mental health issues. It is not a Democratic versus Republican issue our common goal should be the same. A common misconception by Republicans is that liberals want to “take all guns away” which is not the case at all.
DM: Many people are seeking different mediums to help this movement. How can students and adults that aren’t directly impacted still contribute to the cause, and make change happen?
BH: If they cannot come to Washington, D.C for the March then I recommend they take part in the March going on in their own community and that they reach out on social media and support us and what we’re doing.
DM: Is there anything you would like to say to our government?
BH: I guess I would tell them that the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas will stop at nothing to achieve the change which they desire in our legislation, and that there is nothing they can do to stop or postpone this.
DM: What changes do you believe are necessary to ensure this never happens again?
BH: I believe that common sense gun laws and better mental health services would go a long way in ensuring that this kind of this is prevented.
DM: I believe that unusual opportunities have a direct correlation with success. These unusual opportunities that the students have had to voice their opinions through the media, hold countless rallies, plan walkouts, and more is truly compelling. Through these methods they will continue to press for change; that being said, will this movement be successful in attaining the change that is desired?
BH: There is no guarantee that everything that we wish will indeed transpire, but the only thing we can do is do everything in our power to make it happen and hope for the best. I do believe for certain that at least some form of gun laws will be implemented.
DM: Bryan, do you have any last remarks?
BH: I want to thank everyone for their prayers and thoughts throughout this tragedy, and that together anything is possible. Do everything in your power to ensure that this can never happen again anywhere.
Featured image courtesy of Pedro Damasceno
Stay tuned to Milk for more from the forefront of anti-gun violence activism.