And in Tallahassee, Stoneman Douglas students who survived the Parkland shooting massacre chanted louder than ever: “Vote them out!”
Their words echoed through the hallways of the state Capitol, where they demanded a ban on weapons like the one used to kill their friends and teachers.
“This is for every single kid who fears for their life,” said Alfonso Calderon, a Stoneman Douglas student. “This is something serious. It is about human lives.”
In a day filled with emotion and tears, groups of survivors of the Florida shooting and parents of victims stood feet away from President Donald Trump, Florida’s governor and lawmakers. They pleaded for changes in gun law as the nation grapples with how to prevent mass shootings in schools.
“You need to change something before your daughters are the victims,” sophomore Bailey Feuerman said to Gov. Rick Scott.
Florida deputies will carry AR-15 style rifles at schools: Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said as of Wednesday morning, he has ordered all deputies in county schools to carry rifles on school grounds. Israel said the policy was implemented after consultation with school officials. “Our deputies who are qualified and trained will be carrying rifles on school grounds from this point forward. We need to be able to defeat any threat that comes on to campus.”
Most of the deputies will carry AR-15 style rifles, or whatever rifle they’re qualified for, Israel said. Asked how schools can be made safer, Israel mentioned a range of suggestions, such as taking people who make threats online into custody and sensible gun control.
#NeverAgain rally packs the state Capitol grounds: Speaker Florence Yared, a Stoneman Douglas student, stressed that she didn’t want to ban all guns.
“I’m not trying to take away your Second Amendment rights, nor am I trying to eliminate all guns. But we cannot protect our guns before we protect our children,” the 17-year-old said.
“The only purpose of an assault weapon like this is to kill, and to kill as many people as possible. The AR-15 is not a self-defense weapon. It is called an assault weapon. Assault. Think about this word.”
Survivors still hospitalized: Four patients are in fair condition Wednesday, one week after the shooting, Broward Health spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said.
‘Enough thoughts and prayers’
Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used an AR-15-style rifle to gun down 17 people at the high school. He’s in custody, facing 17 counts of premeditated murder.
The fact that such weapons are still legal spurred students to mobilize en masse.
“Our goal here is to get a complete ban on assault weapons in the state of Florida, and we will not accept anything else,” student Spencer Blum said.
“The legislation needs to change, because we’ve fallen victim to lazy legislation for far too long,” he said.
Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr said she wants action, not just words.
“We’ve had enough thoughts and prayers,” she said.
As students rallied outside the Capitol, thousands of teens from across the state walked out in support.
Some walked 10 miles, arm-in-arm, to get to Stoneman Douglas, CNN affiliate WPLG reported.
“We’re exhausted, but couldn’t be prouder to be here,” a senior from Palm Beach County said.
‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us’
Stoneman Douglas sophomore Daniel Bishop said he huddled in a corner for 2½ hours as bullets flew in his school last week. He traveled 450 miles to Tallahassee to push for gun control legislation.
“People I know died. My friends died,” he said. “If our government was doing something correctly, then we wouldn’t be here today. And I truly believe that we can come here and make a difference if we all just work together to pass bipartisan legislation.”
“It was just so heartbreaking to see how many (voters’) names were up there, especially after it was my school,” 16-year-old Sheryl Acquaroli, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, said after the weapons discussion was rejected.
“It seemed almost heartless how they immediately pushed the button to say no.”
Senior Chris Grady, 19, gave the politicians an ultimatum:
“If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and you’re against saving the lives of innocent children. And we are going to be voting you out,” he said.
Students have differing opinions on guns
Kyle Kashuv, 16, a Stoneman Douglas student, identifies as a Republican and a conservative. He said he has always been pro-guns, but looks at things differently since the shooting.
“We have such a limited government that should not be totally reliant on … the police. We should be able to defend ourselves as citizens,” he said. “I still totally believe that but I think that there should be a limit to who could acquire such weaponry.”
He said some people should not have access to guns.
“If you’re not of the right mindset, you’re not mentally stable, then you should not be able to acquire that,” he said.
But Zach Lesk, a junior at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs, said no one should have automatic weapons. He joined Stoneman Douglas students at the Capitol on Wednesday.
“We can’t have people walking around with automatic weapons,” he said. “They’re made for mass murder.”
‘It’s just a start’
Stoneman Douglas survivor Samuel Zeif, who attended the listening session at the White House, said that on the day of the shooting he was on the second floor of the building, sending text messages to his parents and three of his brothers “that I was never going to see them again.”
“I’m here to use my voice because I know he can’t. And I know he’s with me, cheering me on to be strong, but it’s hard.”
In an interview with CNN, Zeif said: “It’s just a start, really, there’s going to be a lot more to come.”
Mark Barden, whose son died in the Sandy Hook shooting, said he thought, “Here we are again, this time, another time, with a room full of people … who are just now starting this journey after another horrific mass shooting.”
When asked what advice Barden would give Zeif, he told the teenager: “It’s a work in progress. I’m still working through it.”
Zeif looked at him, cracked a smile in acknowledgment and nodded his head.
Barden said, “I will say I have so much admiration for the outspoken, powerful, incredible voice of these high school young people. They are making a huge impact in this country; they are not going to put up with this.”
He added: “I’m going to be here to support you.”
Then, Barden offered another piece of advice he received from then Vice-President Joe Biden: “Go home. Take care of yourself. This is a long hard road.”
‘When we’re not here, we’re at a funeral’
While the survivors are fighting for new legislation hundreds of miles from home, their slain friends and teachers aren’t far from their thoughts.
“When we’re not here, we’re at a funeral,” government teacher Jeff Foster said.
Eliott C. McLaughlin, Dianne Gallagher and Meridith Edwards reported from Florida, and Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Faith Karimi, Eric Levenson, Isabella Gomez, Christina Zdanowicz and Darran Simon contributed to this report.