Yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the Marjory Douglas Stoneman massacre. Across the country, we remembered the 17 students and staff members murdered in their Florida high school.
Survivors — and countless others with no connection to the school — believed that finally, something would change. At rallies, online and in legislatures, calls for new gun regulations grew stronger.
Yet in the year that followed, 1,200 children and teenagers have been killed.
Far fewer people know their names, or where they lived, than know the Parkland students. Their stories have never been told.
“Since Parkland” is a powerful media project. With the help of the Miami Herald, McClatchy publishing company and The Trace — an independent, non-profit news organization — 200 journalists set out to profile all 1,200 people 18 and under killed by guns. Since Parkland.
Sophie Driscoll is a proud participant in this important effort.
Like many Staples High students, she’s busy. She’s an editor-in-chief of Inklings, the school’s award-winning newspaper. She’s president of the Young Democrats.
But she made time for “Since Parkland.” And she helped make it a stunning piece of journalism.
A year ago, Sophie published a story in Ms. Magazine. It started as a piece about Reshaping Reality — the Staples club that helps middle schoolers and their parents deal with body image, eating disorders and social pressures. But it soon became much more.
Sophie’s piece highlighted teenage feminists who started clubs at their high schools. She interviewed students in all over the US. It was “interesting and exciting,” she says. She worked with an actual editor, Katina Paron.
Last summer, Sophie joined 83 other rising seniors for a 5-week journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While she was there, Katina called. She was looking for students with “good research skills,” for a project she described only vaguely.
In early August, Sophie and dozens of others participated in a video conference. They learned a bit more about “Since Parkland.”
Sophie was assigned 6 stories. There was Nicholas Glasco, 18 of Stone Mountain Georgia, shot accidentally by a friend a month before his high school graduation.
Christopher Jake Stone, 17, was one of 10 killed and 13 injured at Santa Fe (Texas) High School, 3 months after Parkland. He was trying to block the door to his classroom to prevent the gunman’s entry.
Tahji McGill, 17, was shot outside an Illinois club.
Chavelle Tramon Thompson, 17, was murdered while walking with friends to a store in Union City, Georgia.
In Virginia, a 2-year-old died when his 4-year-old brother accidentally shot him in the head. The very same day — also in Virginia — another 2-year-old was killed. He shot himself with a handgun he’d found.
The story that resonated the most with Sophie was Xantavian Pierce’s. She wrote:
The Brunswick High School athlete played basketball and football. The numbers on his jerseys were 15 and 28, respectively. Throughout his athletic career, the 17-year-old worked to make his mother proud. She said he succeeded.
“He was amazing,” his mother said. “He was wonderful. He was a loving, God-fearing child. He was just a wonderful person. He was my heartbeat.”
Xantavian “Tae” Pierce was helping someone move when a gun went off inside a box he was carrying, accidentally shooting him in the stomach at the Eagles Pointe Apartments in Brunswick, Georgia, on March 25, 2018.
“He was a straight arrow, close with his family,” Sophie says. “He was just like someone I’d know at Staples.”
The process was wrenching. Sophie tracked down news reports, and scrutinized Facebook pages. She read what family members, friends and teachers said.
“They seem like such vibrant, alive, regular kids,” she notes.
Each profile is 3 paragraphs long. The first 2 give life to each young person. The 3rd describes his or her death.
That was hard. “I had to take a step back, and write as if he was alive,” Sophie says. But they were not.
The research itself was arduous. Sophie was stunned to discover there is no national database to track gun deaths. State records might list a date — but no name. Sometimes, there was not even a local news report.
It was a truly collaborative process. The 200 young writers — from across the nation — used the Slack app and Zoom video conferencing to work together. They helped find information, and supported each other through tough times.
Still, they did not realize the scope of the project — or how it would appear online — until nearly the end.
And “the end” was, literally, 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13. Just as they had every day — Since Parkland — young people were killed that night.
The project drew immediate attention. The New York Times highlighted it. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy — a staunch gun regulation advocate — tweeted about it.
Sophie — who hopes to pursue journalism in college, and beyond — notes, “this was journalism, not activism.” But — like all good journalism — she hopes it will force people to think about an issue in deep, different ways.
Her goal — and that of every student journalist — was to humanize all 1,200 young people lost to gun violence Since Parkland.
“The statistics are staggering,” Sophie says. “But each statistic is a human being.
“These kids are not statistics. They’re athletes, artists. A lot were college bound. It’s so hard to think about the people they were, and could have become.”
It is hard. But — thanks to Sophie Driscoll, and scores of other determined high school students across America — right now we are doing just that.