PARKLAND, Florida — At dusk on Sunday night, Cameron Kasky was taking a brief, quiet moment for himself. He lay on a picnic table in a park not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire Wednesday, killing 17 of his classmates and teachers, and wounding 14 others.
Kasky was exhausted. He estimated that he’d done more than 50 interviews since the shooting, all to promote a movement against gun violence that he and his young friends have spearheaded in the wake of their school’s tragedy.
“We, as a community, needed one thing,” he said of his desire to form the group to give his friends a purpose amid the grief.
Kasky, just 17, said he first came up with the name of this new movement, “Never Again,” while wearing his Ghostbusters pajamas.
In just days, the group of teenage survivors have made themselves impossible to ignore, headlining rallies, penning op-eds, and blanketing cable news coverage over the Presidents Day weekend with their calls for action.
But behind the scenes, they’re also just kids — sitting in a circle on the floor in the home of one of their parents, eating a batch of baked pasta, tweeting at each other, and comparing which celebrity just shared their post. There’s laughter and tears, and “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers plays briefly, but it’s also remarkably businesslike. There’s work to do and a seemingly endless number of phone calls to answer.
“We slept enough to keep us going, but we’ve been nonstop all day, all night,” said Sofie Whitney, 18, a senior who estimated that she has spent 70% of the past 48 hours speaking with reporters. “This isn’t easy for us, but it’s something I need to do.”
Whitney told BuzzFeed News that “[she] wouldn’t like to return to school until the federal government starts making some progress.” Other student organizers have said the same thing. When asked how her parents might feel about this, Whitney responded, “I haven’t really discussed this with my parents, but I’ll deal with them.”
On Tuesday, the teens will travel to Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital, to push for a change in gun laws. On Wednesday night CNN will air a special town hall meeting with students and lawmakers. The teens are also planning the “March for Our Lives,” a nationwide March 24 demonstration that they hope will serve as the movement’s coming-out party.
The group, who mostly know each other from the school’s theater program, began their efforts in a scattered way in the chaotic aftermath of Wednesday’s horror.
David Hogg, the 17-year-old student journalist who had interviewed his classmates while they hid from the shooter, went on television the next day, pleading with the country for action. “Please! We are children. You guys are the adults,” he said during a CNN interview that was played across the country. “Take action, work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”
Instead, it was the students themselves who took action.
Kasky began a group text with a few friends that has since ballooned to include as many as 19 participants. Someone built a website, while another person designed a logo. “I’ve been there [in the group chat] since basically hour one,” said Whitney. “Cameron just felt really inclined to make a specific movement. You can’t just make change. You have to be organized.”
On Saturday, they fanned out across the television networks, giving as many interviews as they could.
At a Fort Lauderdale rally, senior Emma González delivered a fiery speech against President Trump and the NRA, which quickly went viral and was seen by millions around the globe. “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us,” she told the crowd through tears. “And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS.”
By Sunday night, as their names and movement trended worldwide, the teens regrouped in a makeshift “headquarters” in a living room. Some of the students hold leadership positions at their school, so they’re used to planning committees and meetings. (As people online tweeted that González should run for president, she joked that she already is president — of her school’s Gay–Straight Alliance.)
Although the room was big, the students worked closely together on a rug, making decisions communally. When media outlets rang to schedule interviews, the calls were sometimes put on hold so the group could plan and schedule collectively, as if they’d been doing this for years.
Occasionally, the trauma from Wednesday bubbled up again. At one point that day, a student had a panic attack, while another later cried on the floor.
John Barnitt, 17, could still recount seeing classmates “dropping their backpacks and kicking their flip-flops off to run faster way from the crime scene.” It was only when he found his mom, who was waiting with what he described as “eager, tear-filled eyes,” that he felt safe.
Like the other organizers, Kasky said that the activism was his method for coping with the grief. “Unfortunately the bad feelings and the reminders of everything that’s happened are coming at all the wrong times,” Kasky told BuzzFeed News.
In these moments, the group repeated a mantra, reminding one another that they were doing this for the students — their classmates — who died on Valentine’s Day. They don’t want this to happen to other “kids,” they said, as if they weren’t kids themselves.
The week ahead is mapped out on whiteboards that were purchased at Target. On the boards are the names of the organizers, with their commitments for the week, and green tape dividing the days in makeshift fashion. Major news network appointments are mixed in with the times of funerals.
As others answered phone calls, Jaclyn Corin, the 17-year-old in charge of logistics for the Tallahassee event on Wednesday, worked on a press release about the event — although she referred to it as “an essay.” The teens are planning to meet with Florida’s attorney general, House speaker, and Senate president. (Gov. Rick Scott's office told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday he would also meet with the students.) “REMEMBER: THIS IS ALL AT A STATE LEVEL,” Corin wrote in capital letters in the final press release.
Around 10 p.m., concerned parents began to call. One student mentioned she was supposed to be home at a certain time, while another negotiated with his folks, who seemed to be telling him to get more rest.
After people left and the night finally ended at 11 p.m., Hogg tried to go to sleep. He played “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio in a bid to unwind. In a few hours, he had to be awake. He had another interview to do.