In the days and weeks afterward, as students and families grieved and returned to class, many of the teens who attend the Parkland, Florida, high school have been speaking out about their experiences and demanding there be changes in gun safety legislation so that something like this can never happen again.
As part of a social media initiative called #whatif, photojournalist Jeff Vespa captured students’ heart-wrenching tales of survival — and their determination to create a future free of gun violence.
Their powerful words and portraits are featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, currently on newsstands.
Keep reading for all of the videos with the survivors.
Parkland Survivor Dylan Kraemer, 17, Shares Horror of Watching Classmates Massacred Next to Him
Dylan Kraemer, a 17-year-old junior at the school, was in history class on Feb. 14 when his room was punctured by bullets.
“With about 20 minutes of class left, I heard the first shots that I’ve ever heard in my life of a gun,” Kraemer recalls in the video above.
Around him, multiple kids had been killed.
“It’s not even surprising when something like this happens anymore and that’s not how it should be anywhere,” he says, “and I just want people to know that this needs to change and gun laws need to change and background checks need to change and schools need to be safer.”
Parkland Student Maia Hebron, 18, on Survivor’s Guilt: ‘It’s Unreal … to Keep On Living’
As the horrific violence became apparent, senior Maia Hebron thought immediately of her sister, Eden, elsewhere on the campus, “because I had just turned 18, but I had a 14-year-old sister who was just starting her high school experience,” she says in the video above.
“Finally my mom calls me and said parents of children in Eden’s class just said that she’s okay. I told my mom, ‘Forget about me. I’m fine. I’m safe. Take care of my sister.’”
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“ we’re not allowed to drink alcohol, we’re not allowed to get a lottery ticket at 18, but you can buy a rifle is unreal to me,” she says. “We need to make something change, or else this is going to keep happening, which it has been for years.”
“Every day I’m going to wake up and think about my classmates … that aren’t allowed to have the experiences that I guess I have now. Part of me feels guilty. Part of me feels thankful. Part of me feels like it’s still unreal that I’m going to have to keep on living.”
“I know that my neighbors, that people in my community, don’t have a life anymore, because of one kid, because of a gun.”
Parkland Survivor Emily Burke, 15: ‘We Bring Our Memories’ to Celebrate Friend They Lost
Emily Burke, a 15-year-old freshman, lost her friend and soccer teammate Alyssa Alhadeff in the massacre, she says in the video above.
“She was shot in the hand, her …read more