You’re struck by all that you didn’t know.
Each of the dead kids’ names. Not just the ones who launched a movement, but all of them.
How many of them had siblings. How many siblings.
What it was like, really, for students to walk back into that school Feb. 28, 14 days after their classmates and teachers were slaughtered.
“At one point, Manuel Oliver got down on his knees to pray,” Dave Cullen writes in his new book, “Parkland.” “Twenty minutes to midnight, Manuel finally blew. ‘Where the f — is my son?’ he shouted.”
His son, Joaquin, was dead. Killed earlier that day, along with 16 other people, when a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School around 2:20 p.m. and started shooting.
Joaquin’s dad, Manuel, was among the parents waiting at the Heron Bay Marriott, 5 miles from Douglas High, pre-designated as the “rendezvous point,” should an emergency take place at the school.
“It was glacial,” Cullen writes. “The entire deceased list was complete, but the notification process dragged on past 3 a.m.”
It’s among the dozens of details I didn’t know about Parkland, didn’t know about the school shooting process. (Yes, we live in a time and a place in which there’s a school shooting process.)
“In tragedy after tragedy, when the last bus unloads and the stragglers stop arriving, everyone looks around, counts the remaining families and does the math,” Cullen writes. “This is the moment where parents from prior tragedies described praying for a critical injury, or bargaining with God. The death count is usually public by this time, and it gradually aligns with the family count. The last best hope is that their child is coming out of surgery in some hospital, and miraculously calling out their name.”
Manuel Oliver and his wife, Patricia, learned their son’s fate at 1:41 a.m.
Cullen isn’t a newcomer to tragedy. He was one of the first journalists to arrive at Columbine High School after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on a killing rampage there in 1999. He spent 10 years researching the massacre for his 2009 book, “Columbine.” He studied the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert.
“Parkland changed everything — for the survivors, for the nation, and definitely for me,” he writes. “I flew down the first weekend, but not to depict the carnage or the grief. What drew me was the group of extraordinary kids. I wanted to cover their response. There are strains of sadness woven into this story, but this is not an account of grief. These kids chose a story of hope.”
“Parkland” examines how the survivors launched and built a movement in the wake of their classmates’ deaths, from David Hogg’s early TV interviews, the morning after the shooting, when he roundly rejected the public’s thoughts and prayers.
“Any action at this point, instead of just stagnancy and blaming the other side,” Hogg said. “You guys are the adults. You need to take some action.”
It was the moment, Cullen maintains, that Hogg called out Adult America for letting our kids die.
“The uprising,” he writes, “had begun.”
Cullen traces the movement from the students’ early meetings in their living rooms and first forays onto Twitter. He marks the instant when their Instagram feeds turned from sunsets and selfies to toe-to-toe battles with the National Rifle Association.
He’s there when they host, at Emma Gonzales’ house, a half-dozen kids from Chicago to talk about calibrating their movement to encompass all gun violence, not just the kind that takes place in largely white, largely affluent schools.
“We know that the reason that we’re getting this attention is because we’re privileged white kids,” Parkland student Delaney Tarr told Cullen. “If you look at Chicago, there’s such a high level of gun violence. But that’s not getting the attention that this is getting because we’re in such a nice area.”
The Parkland kids teamed up with Peace Warriors from Chicago’s West Side and the BRAVE (Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere) kids from the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s St. Sabina Church on the South Side. Chicago kids flew to Parkland. Parkland kids flew to Chicago.
Together, they grew the movement’s ranks. Together, they planned and executed the enormous March for Our Lives, on March 24, which drew some 470,000 people in Washington, D.C., and somewhere between 1.4 million and 2.1 million at more than 700 related marches across the country.
In the fall, several March for Our Lives organizers traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, to accept the International Children’s Peace Price from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Cullen was there too.
“The peaceful campaign to demand safe schools and communities and the eradication of gun violence is reminiscent of other great peace movements in history,” Tutu told Cullen at the ceremony. “I am in awe of these children, whose powerful message is amplified by their youthful energy and an unshakable belief that children can — no, must — improve their futures. They are true change makers who have demonstrated most powerfully that children can move the world.”
Indeed. “Parkland” tells their story well and truly. It’s written with the clarity and depth and time — that’s the big thing, time — that the students who died and the students who live deserve, and that the nation grappling with it all needs. I was moved and informed and, most of all, heartbroken by it — even though it’s written with authentic hope.
What moved me most, as I read the book and after I closed it, were all the things I didn’t know.
All the ways we’ve inoculated ourselves from the grief and sorrow and scourge of gun violence.
We learn the general outline of the latest school shooting (how many killed, what are their ages, did they capture the shooter, how many does that bring us to, when will it end), and then we, most of us, those of us who didn’t live through it, move on.
“Parkland” asks us to pause. To sit with the stories — the stories of survivors who launched a movement and may very well create a cultural sea change around guns, yes.
But also the victims’ mothers and fathers and younger brothers. Also the witnesses who live with survivor guilt and cry when the fire alarm sounds at school and suffer from acute post-traumatic stress disorder.
“So much Play-Doh and so many comfort dogs,” Daniel Duff told Cullen about the first day Marjory Stoneman Douglas reopened. “I don’t know what kind of meeting they had before, but every classroom had Play-Doh.”
Those are the details that haunt me and the lives of so many others, changed forever.