The soft glow of candles illuminated students’ faces. Some of them were in tears. Seventeen white luminaries with the names of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting surrounded them, serving as a reminder of the painful second anniversary.
March for Our Lives Gainesville hosted a vigil on Plaza of the Americas Friday night to honor the victims.
The bells of Century Tower played a melody as four MSD alumni recounted the tragedy that happened two years ago. They talked about the friends they lost and recalled the day of the shooting.
UF President Kent Fuchs and Helen Kirklin of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America spoke. They were accompanied by D’Andra Mull, the new vice president for Student Affairs.
Fuchs talked about how his son was at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University during the shooting in 2007. He said he was inspired by the work that students are doing to end gun violence.
After the speeches, students lit 17 candles and read aloud the names of the shooting victims. They held a 2 minute and 19 second moment of silence, representing two years after the shooting and 19 lost lives, including the deaths by suicide of Sydney Aiello and Calvin Desir, survivors of the shooting.
Brandon Abzug, an MSD alumnus, said he decided to speak at the vigil because he wanted to tell others about what he learned in the past two years of his life. He also wanted to honor his late friend, Carmen Schentrup, who was accepted to UF.
“This is not about us, it’s about those who passed away,” he said.
In the past two years, the public has become more aware of gun violence tragedies due to March for Our Lives, which formed after the shooting. The tragedies have helped change public opinion, Abzug, a 19-year-old UF political science and criminology sophomore, said. But he says there is more to do.
Abzug advocates for banning automatic assault weapons over a certain magazine capacity, enforcing universal background checks and requiring gun licenses.
“We need a multi-faceted approach because the issue is very complex,” he said. “There’s not one single solution.”
Phoebe Houle, a 19-year-old UF family, youth and community sciences sophomore, went to school near MSD. She said the day of the shooting was a day full of heartbreak and pain, and she will remember it forever.
“I wanted to honor the people that have lost friends and family and be there for people who need support,” she said. “Their legacy will live on.”
Houle participated in March for Our Lives and said she thinks not much has changed regarding gun violence.
“Luckily, the people that come out to events like this and participate — they definitely want to make changes,” Houle said. “So there’s always hope.”
Contact Meghan McGlone at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.