WASHINGTON – With searing anger, raw emotion and heartfelt pleas, parents, students and others impacted by school shootings implored President Donald Trump to take action at the White House Wednesday.
“Thank you for pouring out your hearts because the world is watching,” Trump told them after hearing their stories. Here is some of what they shared:
— Samuel Zeif was on the second floor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week when a gunman opened fire, killing 17 people. He said he’d been frantically texting his mother, father and siblings when he realized his 14-year-old brother was in the classroom directly above him. Both brothers made it out alive — the younger Zeif was heroically saved by a teacher who died — and the text messages they exchanged have become a symbol of the tragedy.
“No brothers or sisters or family members or anyone should ever have to share those texts with anyone. And that’s why I’m here,” Zeif told the president, adding that he’d lost his best friend in the shooting, and wanted “to use my voice because I know he can’t.”
Zeif told the president that he wants to feel safe at school and voiced disbelief at the nation’s gun laws.
“I don’t understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR,” he said. “How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?”
He urged Trump to, “never let this happen again, please.”
— Andrew Pollack, whose teenage daughter, Meadow, was killed in the Florida shooting, stood flanked by his sons, Huck and Hunter, in the White House’s ornate State Dining Room, as his voice grew louder.
“It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it!” he said, as the room sat in silence. “And I’m pissed! Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again…. King David Cemetery, that’s where I go to see my kid now.”
Pollack railed against the fact that he can’t get onto an airplane with a bottle of water but an “animal can walk into a school and kill our children.”
Pollack said the country protects stadiums, embassies and even the Department of Education’s elevators with armed security guards and that what’s needed is more protection in schools.
“It’s not about gun laws right now,” he said. “We need our children safe.”
“9-11 happened once and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here,” he declared. “I’m not going to sleep until it’s fixed.”
— Justin Gruber, another Parkland student, is only 15 years old. But he told Trump, “I was born into a world where I never got to experience safety and peace. There needs to be a significant change in this country because this has to never happen again.”
He said no parent should have to experience the fear his father, Cary Gruber, went through last week.
“Seventeen lives are gone. I was lucky enough to get my son home. But 17 families… It’s not left and right. It’s not political. It’s a human issue. People are dying. And we have to stop this,” said the elder Gruber, who urged Trump to support higher age limits to purchase weapons.
“If he’s not old enough to buy a drink, to go and buy a beer, he should not be able to buy a gun at 18 years old,” Cary Gruber said.
“Please, Mr. Trump. We gotta do something about this. We cannot have our children die… please,” he pleaded.
— Mark Barden’s son Daniel was just seven years old and in first grade when he was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Barden, whose wife is a school teacher in the Bronx, urged the president to reconsider the proposal he floated to arm teachers and other school administrators in an effort to discourage attacks.
“School teachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life,” said Barden, drawing a smattering of applause from those gathered. “Nobody wants to see a shootout in a school and a deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of murder in a school, knowing the outcome is going to be suicide, is not going to care if there’s somebody there with a gun,” he said.
He argued students and educators need to be taught to recognize the signs of trouble in students and get them the help they need.
“It works,” he said, asking the president for help.
— Melissa Blank’s son Jonathan, another Parkland student, survived the shooting. But she said the whole community was shaken by the tragedy.
“I feel for all of these families. My heart is just broken for my whole community,” she said, describing the guilt she felt about the fact that her son is still alive.
“I feel so bad for all of you who have lost so many,” she told the group, choking up, “and I’m just begging for a change.”