Elizabeth Stout will pick a seat away from the door when she walks into her first UF class.
Unlike her yellow thermos that still sits on the desk second from the door in her Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School AP Psychology class.
Stout left the cup in Room 1213 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s freshman building on Valentine’s Day. It has found its place in the background of the ongoing investigation — along with the forgotten chocolates and roses — since that classroom door window shattered and one of Stout’s classmates became one of 17 who died.
She left other things behind. Her mental health, her friends and her hobbies — no more cheerleading, no more yearbook. And she almost left her dream of UF behind, a school she’s wanted to attend since she was 5, because she feared leaving her family.
“I think about the shooting every day.”
But she realized she needed an escape from the town still grieving.
Stout, 18, is one of 48 now-UF students who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in June, UF Dean of Students Heather White wrote in an email.
She still has four months to choose a seat as she eases back into the routine with online classes for her first semester in Innovation Academy.
Two weeks after the shooting, she went back to school for about a month until she decided to finish her classes online. In her bedroom, she doesn’t have to worry about the door, but she knows she can’t stay confined to her comfort zone for her whole college life.
“I can’t anticipate it. I don’t know. I just know I’m not going to be near the classroom door.”
Though the idea of returning to school scares her, she still has a piece of home down the street in Gainesville. Her sister Catherine Stout, a UF sustainability studies junior, lives nearby and said the two have only gotten closer since the shooting.
Catherine Stout said she will never forget what it felt like to hug her sister after the shooting, both in tears.
“I couldn’t stop telling my friends how excited I was to hug her and feel her like so many other families couldn’t,” Catherine Stout, 20, said.
Though Elizabeth Stout knows things could have been worse for her, she’s suffered endlessly as a survivor. She left high school April 2, shortly before being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I couldn’t go back,” Stout said. “The school just became nothing at all to me. It was not my home.”
For a month after the shooting, her mother Debby would squeeze into her full-sized bed to try and calm her. Still, she’d toss and turn.
Knowing the survivors would likely be struggling, the Counseling & Wellness Center, Housing and Residence Education and the Dean of Students Office discussed how to support the survivors, White said.
Stout plans to see a counselor at the center and will get help from the Disability Resource Center for her anxiety.
Before she started at UF, Stout sought treatment that induced flashbacks. They felt like she was back in that orange classroom, hearing the gunshots and seeing her friends bleeding. She yelled for people to help her friends, like Carmen Schentrup, one of the 14 students killed.
Stout’s boyfriend Garrett pleaded with her to look into his eyes and touch his curtains to bring her back into reality. Still, she felt like she was in the room.
It was fourth period, the last period of the day.
Stout was sitting in her desk in the last row next to the door. She began to write notes on the unit for the day, personality, while eating her leftover peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. The yellow thermos sat on the desk, never to be used again.
2:21 p.m. She remembers the time exactly.
Hundreds of rounds rang through the hallway as the walls vibrated. She had spent enough time at the shooting range with her dad, an FBI agent, to know it was gunfire.
Stout and 30 of her classmates clamored over each other to make it behind their teacher’s desk. She tucked herself into the hollow space below the desk, where a chair would be.
They waited. At about 2:35 p.m., the police came.
“Three down. Three injured. Is anybody injured?” the officer said.
A collective cry: Yes.
The next day, Stout watched CNN and saw Schentrup’s photo pop up alongside the other victims. It was the first time she let herself cry.
Now, Schentrup and other victims smile in photos on a corkboard in her Gainesville apartment.
Stout, a UF political science freshman, wants to be an FBI agent like her father Richard, who responded to the school immediately after the shooting. She said she wants to better the FBI after learning how the agency blundered tips about the alleged shooter.
“When the shooting was going on, I was acting just like my dad would,” Stout said.
Ten days after the shooting, she got a tattoo on her ribs of the number 17 with a heart, to remember the victims.
“It’s just something that’s a part of me now, surviving something that was so horrible,” she said.