Sad, angry, motivated, frustrated. These feelings are being shared by the still grief-stricken surviving Parkland students. A new gripping documentary, ‘After Parkland,’ takes you along on their journey.
Victoria Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, wears a necklace almost every day, holding a photo of her late boyfriend and best friend, Joaquin Oliver. Joaquin was one of the seventeen shooting victims — 14 of them students, 3 staff members — who were massacred on Valentine’s Day, 2018, by a former student armed with an AR-15, semi-automatic rifle.
Joaquin, at 17, was charismatic, a key member of the school’s basketball team, and a romantic. Victoria, still has the flowers from the Valentine’s Day bouquet he gave her, before being gunned down. Now, Victoria along with several other Parkland students as well as families of some of the victims, are sharing their heartbreaking experiences in a new documentary, After Parkland, by filmmakers Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman, which follows the days and months after the massacre.
“All I wanted to do was keep Joaquin’s memory alive, to talk about what happened to him and make sure that nothing like that happens to anyone else, that nobody else loses their Joaquin,” Victoria tells Hollywoodlife.com in an EXCLUSIVE interview, as she explained why she participated in the documentary.
Gonzalez says she still feels Joaquin’s presence all the time, and her fellow Parkland survivors profiled in the film, also say that they can’t and will never forget their friends and classmates who lost their lives that terrible day. “It was easy for me to believe that something so horrible couldn’t happen [here],” confesses sophomore Lauren Hogg. “But that was until February 14th, February 15th and the days following when I saw my own friends’ faces [who died] on TV, and it just changed the way I looked at everything. It’s kind of like the world came crashing in, but at the same time, it’s really made me rise up, along with my friends, because I didn’t want to see any other of my friends’ faces on TV.”
Lauren sadly lost four friends in the hail of bullets during the attack, according to her brother David Hogg, who has since become a high profile advocate for sensible gun laws. “I was just shattered, I was broken and I was exhausted,” Lauren says of the days following the shooting, when the filmmakers cameras were rolling, “I was also exhausted because a lot of the footage was from before the actual march (March For Our Lives) that I was organizing.”
Hogg, despite her young age and despite her lack of organizing ‘credentials’ before the massacre, threw herself and her grief into organizing the massive March For Our Lives in DC with up to 800,000 attending as well as 880 other marches all around the country. Lauren admits that she has ‘grown monumentally’ and ‘changed completely as a person’ over the past year since the massacre. “I’ve seen so many things throughout the last year… and I think that anybody who would have seen or gone through what all of us have gone through, it would be impossible for anybody not to change.”
After Parkland follows the unbearable grief of the parents and friends of the innocent student victims as they struggle to honor their loved ones, whether it’s Joaquin’s dad Manuel, continuing to coach his son’s basketball team to victory because that’s what ‘Guac’ would have wanted him to do, or Meadow Pollack‘s dad, Andrew, confronting Donald Trump in a White House meeting.
It also follows Brooke Harrison, now a sophomore, who survived the trauma of being trapped in a classroom that the shooter sprayed with bullets. Three of her classmates were shot and killed around her and five others were wounded. She was trapped with those dead and wounded classmates, for what felt like hours, before being rescued by police. Her family ironically, had moved from New York City to the Parkland community, to be in a ‘safer’ place.
Brooke confessed to HollywoodLife that talking on camera for the After Parkland filmmakers, Taguchi and Lefferman, was her best form of therapy. “I think having an in depth look of what it is really like in your daily life to go through something like this is very different. I think it’s important that people understand that… it’s not going to fade away after a few days, a few years. It’s something that’s going to be with us the rest of our lives.”
Brooke points out that there is not a straight A to B line in the grief process. “I’m angry, I’m sad, it will go back and forth forever,” she says. She has tried to turn her grief into action by speaking at other schools about what happened. Lauren has focused on political activism , which she says, “has become a huge part of my life. It’s something that’s going to continue to being a large part of my life… it’s how I get through the day, whether it’s researching politicians, getting people registered to vote. Even just talking with other people who have become victims of gun violence. That’s what really pushes me forward every single day, and every single day that I go to school the only reason that I’m able to get through is #1) because of my friends and #2) because I feel as though I need to graduate to become somebody who can help more people.”
In terms of helping — the March For Our Lives 2018 summer tour across the country that Lauren helped organize, registered about 100,000 people to vote and March For Our Lives now has over 300 chapters.
Victoria used her own grief to undertake a heartfelt project of remembrance. She and one of her teachers, Ronit Reoven, started to plant silk flowers in a garden in front of the school to honor the victims. Gonzalez called it, Project Grow Love and other students and community members have joined in and added more flowers, plants and stones painted with names of the victims.
Gonzalez had been furious that the school itself had done so little to memorialize the lives that were lost. She had been told that the school didn’t ‘have time.’ “That blew me away. How do you not have time to do that? But I’m glad that I did it. Someone needed to do it.”
The students also criticize the school for not bringing in more experienced grief counselors and for still not checking students backpacks when they enter the school, despite the horror that happened.
Says Brooke, “I feel like people aren’t really hearing our voices.”
When After Parkland is released, people definitely will. HollywoodLife will report when this terrific film gets distribution and you can see it. For more information on joining a March For Our Lives chapter and fighting for sensible gun safety laws go to https://marchforourlives.com/.