The Caravel sat down in Baltimore on March 25 with Hannah Karcinell, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) and survivor of the shooting on February 14 that killed 17 students and teachers. The interview took place just a day after March For Our Lives (MFOL), a rally that brought hundreds of thousands of protesters together in more than 800 events around the globe, including nearly 800,000 in Washington, D.C. and 175,000 in New York City. The worldwide protests—which included marches on every continent except Antarctica—were organized by MSD students to push for legislative action to enact gun control in the United States.
Karcinell spoke at length about the tragic events of February 14, healing in its difficult aftermath, and the legacy of activism and change that she hopes will result from the ordeal. She attended MFOL alongside her classmates to push lawmakers to enact concrete gun control legislation to prevent future tragedies. Karcinell thinks the MSD students have a unique opportunity to turn their tragedy into change. “The kids from Sandy Hook weren’t old enough to really start something, and then in Columbine, there wasn’t really social media. So, I think social media and the fact that these were high school students really helped bring together a movement,” she said.
When asked about her emotions on the day of the attack, Karcinell said that her dominant feelings were of fear and confusion. “We didn’t know what was going on at first. Even people that were in that building didn’t know what was going on … they just heard the fire alarm go off and walked out of the rooms, and that’s when they were shot.” She added that the active shooter drills that MSD regularly conducted were next to useless, since no one knew what was happening initially. Karcinell only became aware of the situation when she heard the gunshots herself. Having assembled outside for what she believed to be a fire drill, Karcinell then went down the road to seek shelter in a Walmart. She later found out that the shooter, who had already left MSD by that point, was also in the Walmart at the same time.
One of the most traumatizing scenes Karcinell described was the moment she found out about the death of a friend, Nicholas Dworet. “This girl came up to us covered in blood, and she said that she had to use a dead body to shield herself…. I asked her to describe it, and she said he had blond hair, blue eyes, and was on the swim team. And that’s when I knew [it was Nick].” Karcinell later decided to forgo the chance to travel to Tallahassee with other MSD students to petition Florida state legislators for gun control, choosing instead to attend Dworet’s funeral service. She called this a “difficult” decision and stressed the importance of speaking to lawmakers, saying, “I think [telling personal stories of gun violence]can be effective. When you actually hear someone speak about something, and it’s not just looking at the numbers… it makes you want to do something about it.” Dworet’s birthday was March 24. Douglas students led the crowd of hundreds of thousands in singing happy birthday to him at the march.
Reflecting upon the immediate response to the shooting—specifically that of armed Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, who fled the building when gunshots were heard—Karcinell said, “I also think that a good guy with a gun can’t always stop a bad guy with a gun, which was shown at my school.” Karcinell does believe that embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel should resign in light of the actions of his deputy and his response to the shooting at MSD.
Florida prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against the Parkland shooter; Karcinell agrees with this move. “My mom was a cop, and my dad was on a SWAT team, so my mom has talked to me a lot about this stuff… In prison, they can go outside a few times a day, and they can take a cooking class or whatever and just be living their lives. Jodi Arias is having a great time in prison. But, if you’re on death row, you’re just alone in a room, and you can’t get out for 20 years, and then you’re killed,” she explained.
Karcinell also spoke extensively about the healing process in the weeks after the shooting at MSD. Just a few days after the event that claimed the lives of so many of her friends and classmates, Karcinell decided to gather a group of friends at her house. “It was just a healing event…. I just wanted to get everyone together just to have some sense of normalcy, kind of.”
However, the students’ return to MSD was anything but normal. “The fact that I’m going to go back, and they’re going to have metal wands, and it’s going to take an hour to get into school, and there are going to be so many police everywhere, it makes it feel like a prison,” said Karcinell. Once inside the school, sitting through classes is just as alien as as entering: “Everything is different now…. I had African American history with Joaquin [Oliver], so just seeing his empty desk…. When anyone’s late, you’re just expecting it to be him walking in.”
As she slowly heals, Karcinell is also standing strong as part of the movement to end the scourge of American gun violence—especially in schools. “I don’t even know what I can say to [the National Rifle Association (NRA)]because that organization…[doesn’t] even care about responsible gun owners; they just want more gun sales…‘cause that’s just going to make their organization bigger and bigger.” She was disappointed but not surprised by Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) insistence that he would continue to “accept the help of anyone who agrees with [his]agenda” by soliciting NRA donations.
Meanwhile, Karcinell was pleased with aspects of the Florida state gun control legislation that was passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the minimum legal age to purchase a firearm in Florida from 18 to 21 and makes money available for school districts that choose to arm teachers. Karcinell also said, however, “I think it’s total chaos if teachers are armed.”
Karcinell seemed hopeful that the #NeverAgain movement, founded in the wake of the tragedy at MSD, can effect meaningful change in the coming months and years. “Movements in the past like the civil rights movement… have been led by young people, so I think… younger people, when they’re fed up with things, they just let everyone know.” She sees the movement embodied at MFOL as a wave with the power to sweep anti-gun control legislators out of office and attain concrete reform like universal background checks, a bump-stock ban, an assault-style weapons ban, and mental health screening. “The epidemic of gun violence in general is American…. The issue here [as]opposed to other developed countries… is how easy it is to access guns here.”
To the lawmakers that have offered her thoughts and prayers, Karcinell has a simple answer: “You’re not a rabbi, you’re not a priest, you’re not an imam. Stop giving your thoughts and prayers. It’s just not enough. You’re a legislator. Do something.”
Special thanks to Sarah Bothner (MSB ‘19) for arranging this interview.