It was just a normal day for Zach Xu on the afternoon of February 14.
His phone, unable to receive notifications or messages, lay silent and out of battery – that is, until he got home from class.
Upon checking Facebook, he came face-to-phone with a CNN livestream reporting on the fact that there had been a South Florida school shooting. Little did he know that school would be his alma mater. Soon his eyes met the screen panning over his own home, located within a mile of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. All of this happening before his very eyes, 300 miles away.
“When you see the place where you spent literally ten years of your life on camera with kids screaming and running for their lives and police cars in one of the safest cities in America, I…” Xu said. “I was just speechless.”
Parkland, Florida, the city where the high school is located, was named the safest city in the state just last year by the National Council for Home Safety and Security.
Xu and fellow graduates of the Stoneman Douglas knew they had to do something in honor of their hometown, so they decided to organize a candlelit vigil.
About 300 people came together to show their support for the 17 victims and their peers on Tuesday night at Turlington Plaza. Attendees surrounded a table as graduates of the high school stood up, one by one, sharing their testimonies.
After over an hour of testimonies, Xu concluded the vigil by asking for a change.
“Trauma is temporary, influence is forever,” Xu said. “Please do what you can and make this country that we claim to be the best in the world, the safest in the world, too.”
Beyond the fact that the shooting took place in his hometown, Xu said he had a lot of personal connections to the victims themselves.
“Coach Feis introduced me to weightlifting which is now one of my greatest passions,” he said. “One of my best friends from home is never going to be able to hug his sister again.”
While recalling his great memories at Douglas, Xu said he didn’t want to speak about the shooter.
“That’s all he wants and I’m not going to give him the satisfaction,” he said.
Xu plans to make it his mission to make sure no one forgets that this will be the last time this ever happens again.
“We live in the greatest county in the world and kids are afraid to go to class because of instances like this,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like the greatest country in the world to me.”
Thapthim Bussararungsee, 19, attended the vigil and had just befriended an alumnus of the high school just weeks prior.
“Seeing my peers come together for something like this was incredible,” Bussararungsee said. “Everybody’s affected. Everybody knows someone who was affected.”
If you’d like to help and show your support for the victims and the Parkland community, there’s a Venmo account under @msdstrong. Seventy-five percent of the proceeds will go directly to the high school and 25 percent will be donated to Youth Mental Health First Aid, a crisis education program, on behalf of the 17 victims.
The alumni, as well as many people across the county, will participate in the National School Walkout on March 14 and will attend the March For Our Lives rally in Washington D.C. on March 24.