Ocala saw a flurry of events inciting both outrage and hope on Wednesday afternoon in the wake of Friday’s shooting at Forest High School.
On Friday morning, a 19-year-old former FHS student entered the school with a concealed, unlicensed firearm. The threat turned violent when the shooter fired a single shot, hitting one student in his ankle, before being apprehended by police.
In response to the shooting, the FHS held an “appreciation assembly,” Gov. Rick Scott visited Ocala and student activists took to the Downtown Ocala Square to rally against gun violence.
FHS Appreciation Assembly
At Wednesday’s noon assembly, the FHS student body came together to honor the men and women who kept them safe in a time of imminent danger and fear.
“I think what’s most special about this is it was totally done and driven by the students,” said FHS Principal Brent Carson. “At that point, it’s great for the process of getting closure. That’s really what I think helped a lot of students, is bringing this event to closure and move past it, but in the same sense, realize that it was a traumatic event that we went through.”
When Student Body President Kaye Alabaugh addressed her peers, she made their purpose clear. Alabaugh commended the bravery of her fellow students and presented the title of “Honorary Wild Cat” to the first responders, teachers and community supporters who provided safety and comfort in the students’ time of need.
“Forest High School is a place where we do things out of love. We do things out of compassion,” said FHS senior Morgan Villella. “We have a very strong student body…. Everyone was so brave that day and we felt that we as a school needed to recognize everyone, so we immediately started trying to plan something.”
When Resource Officer and FHS alumnus Deputy Jim Long was announced, every student rose to their feet. Long, an FHS alumnus, had been the first on the scene, apprehending the shooter before any fatalities could occur.
The assembly was opened and closed with what Alabaugh announced to be the school’s new slogan:
“We are one. We are strong. We are Forest.”
Gov. Rick Scott Media Address
At 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, Governor Rick Scott addressed Friday’s shooting at the Marion County Emergency Operations Center. Scott commended police on their hard work, sacrifice and dedication to keeping Florida safe.
“These individuals protect our safety,” Scott said. “They do it day in and day out. They do it whether people are nice to them…. They show up each and every day. They put their life on the line every day.”
Scott went on to recognize Deputy Long for his bravery and preparedness by awarding him with The Governor’s Medal of Heroism.
“The Governor’s Medal of Heroism is given to those who risk their lives deliberately, above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in hazardous or perilous activities to preserve lives with the knowledge that they are putting themselves in harm’s way,” Scott said.
Deputy Long, described by Sheriff Billy Woods as a “man of few words,” received the award humbly surrounded by his family.
“I’ve been here all my life.” Long said. “There are some teachers that are still there from when I was a high schooler…. My staff at Forest High School, they did amazing. Without them, I mean, they were right there by my side without a weapon. They’re my heroes.”
Never Again Ocala Forest Strong Rally
Prior to Friday’s shooting, Ocala local student activists had begun to organize a “Never Again” rally in solidarity with the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students were killed by a campus shooter in February.
Following Friday’s events, however, the rally took on a greater meaning for many, particularly FHS students. Speakers took the Downtown Ocala Square stage in front of an audience baring signs and orange ribbons in solidarity with the shooting victims.
“Around my neck is one of the most important pieces of protest that I have,” said FHS senior Azaria Chamorro of a price tag-shaped paper necklace. “It says $1.05, and this is how much money Marco Rubio gets per student from the NRA, which is disgusting.”
Students from both Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Forest High Schools recounted gut-wrenching tales of fear, sorrow, and loss. These students, however, used their experience as an opportunity to speak out against the politicians affiliated National Rifle Association and to encourage people to get informed on the issues and vote.
“Read the second amendment very carefully and look for this: Was our shooter and the shooter at Stoneman Douglas, were they building a militia? Was there an attempt to protect citizens, and is their expression of that right worthy of protection?” asked FHS AP US history teacher Marissa French.