Five years since the Parkland shooting: looking back at the tragedy
Arianna Otero was a 15-year-old sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School five years ago when a gunman opened fire, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others.
The school shooting on February 14, 2018, was one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Last fall, the gunman and a former student was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of the crime.
Today, Otero is a student journalist at Florida International University, and often reports on the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy.
On this episode of the South Florida Roundup, we spoke to Otero, who recalls her experience of being in the school that horrific day and the aftermath of dealing with a tragedy that became national news.
That day Otero recalls hearing the sound of a fire drill or alarm had went off. As time passed, and the teachers grew more frantic making sure the students kept going and moving about, she realized it was no fire drill and that a gunman had entered the school grounds.
"Just everything falls to the pit of your stomach and you're looking around you. Is he with us in the crowd right now? Where is he right now?"
"The things that stand out and still stick with me today is just kind of the terror that you feel in that moment. You feel kind of helpless …You feel lost," she said.
Otero said she had a few encounters with the shooter before that fateful day.
As a freshman, she saw him walking in the hallways with a Publix bag as his backpack because she said he was not allowed to have a backpack. She doesn't know the exact reason why, but she chalked it up to worries from the school about him. She also remembers he got in trouble for walking up to a random student and punching them.
After the shooting, Otero joined Shine MSD, a creative arts therapy organization that sought to help kids through their trauma with creative arts therapy.
"So for art therapy … It was definitely just talking about the thing without talking about it," she said. "And as well, just taking what you could not say and could not delve into and turning that into writing a song or making an art piece and just opening up those channels of communication … and just showing that, you know, you will be okay."
This therapy work has only become more important as other shootings have occurred in the past five years.
She said she feels the country is backsliding as proposed measures such as constitutional carry in Florida emerge in the Legislature — despite the work the survivors did in 2018 to help pass gun reform laws.
"It's one step forward and three steps back. I mean, as much as we've pushed and as much as we've yelled and we screamed for this stuff … To see all of that just being washed away and taken over by this, it's it fuels a fire," she said. "But at the same time, it's an exhausting feeling of I've just crossed these hurdles. And now when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel is much farther than you realize."
She said her decision to pursue journalism was largely driven by her experience as a survivor of the Parkland shooting.
Otero said she wants to see journalists be more sensitive in how they approach those with ties to Parkland.
"The kids going there and the teachers going there are just trying to go to school … They already have to see the building everyday," she said. " I remember TV stations lined up in front of the school. And then the second the bell rang to let dismissal go., They'd run up to kids to try to grab sound bites and stuff. "
"Just remember that these are people at the end of the day and they are exhausted as much as you have a job to do. These people just want to live their lives and move forward," she said.
On Tuesday, Broward County Public Schools and communities across Broward County will host A Day of Service and Lovein commemoration of the 17 lives that were taken and those 17 injured.