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A Year After Parkland, a Family Searches for Closure

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Gabby Deutch is an editorial fellow at the Atlantic in Washington, D.C.

For a few weeks after their daughter Carmen was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, a week shy of her 17th birthday, April and Phil Schentrup could barely leave the house. They didn’t go to the vigils; they didn’t watch the CNN townhall on U.S. gun policy; they couldn’t even go to work. “We were just trying to get through a normal day, trying to get out of bed,” April told me when I spoke to her over the phone in January.

By late March, they had come to see things differently. They started paying more attention to the news and tracking everything that had gone wrong to cause their daughter’s death. And, as survivors of the massacre that killed 13 other students and three staff members fought to combat gun violence across the country, staging rallies and urging legislators to pass gun reform legislation, April and Phil fought back too, steadfastly demanding change at home in the school district that failed to keep their daughter safe.

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They lobbied district officials to change security protocols. They demanded full explanations and apologies from the Broward superintendent and the MSD principal. They wanted Broward Sheriff Scott Israel removed from his post. April, who was an elementary school principal in Broward at the time of the shooting, even accepted a job as director of school safety and security for the district.

One year later, the Parkland student activists who captured the nation’s attention have gotten results. They organized the dozens of March for Our Lives protests around the world that attracted millions of activists. Last March, Rick Scott—then Florida’s governor and now a U.S. senator—signed into law the state’s most sweeping gun reform legislation in recent memory.

But where the Parkland activists met with success on the state level, April and Phil say they have been blocked in their district. So far, no one has issued what they consider a satisfying apology for the February 14 massacre. Sheriff Israel was removed from his post last month, but he is challenging the decision in the state legislature. When April tried to make meaningful changes in safety procedures in her new job, she found herself entirely left out of the decision-making process and frustrated by the slow pace of reform. April even described how district officials made her jump through hoops just to take appropriate time off to mourn her daughter.

“That was something we just didn’t imagine,” April told me, “that we’d have to fight this hard, or as hard as we are, to try to just make things OK.”

April and Phil say they eventually realized they couldn’t trust district officials to avoid a repeat of last year’s tragedy. And, with their other daughter, Evelyn, still in high school, they couldn’t take any chances. So, when the school year started in August, the three of them moved to Seattle (their son, Robert, is a college student in Florida). They’d tried to make something good come from what April calls “our tragedy.” But if trying their hardest wasn’t enough, the only option left was starting over.

Even on the other side of the country, the Schentrups are still haunted by the sense that had officials done things differently before February 14, Carmen would still be alive. They pored over all 458 pages of last month’s report from the MSD Public Safety Commission, an investigative body created last March by the Florida legislature to find out what happened and make recommendations for the future. The report gave an excruciatingly detailed, second-by-second accounting of the massacre that killed Carmen and of the decisions that allowed it to happen. The Schentrups found some comfort in the fact that the report’s conclusions were similar to their own: that the school district and the sheriff’s office, among other organizations, were inadequately prepared to protect students’ lives at MSD.

Top: Fire rescue vehicles block the road to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, following the shooting. Bottom left: Flowers and mementos are placed on a memorial site for assistant football coach Aaron Feis and others that were killed in the February 14, 2018, shooting. Bottom right: The hearse bearing the remains of slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Carmen Schentrup arrives for her funeral services on February 20, 2018. | RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images; AP Images

April and Phil acknowledge that change can take time. Even if it’s only starting to happen almost a year later, that’s still something. “The fact that the commission really looked into [everything] was a good thing,” April said. But the same people are still at the top in the school district—the principal and the superintendent—even when, according to the Schentrups, they haven’t seriously admitted their failure and offered explanations of future plans. Phil put it simply: “How did their policies fail before, and how have they changed those policies to ensure that people are doing the right things?” A year later, he said, April and Phil still don’t have the most difficult answers.

“I think that’s the frustration,” April added. A year after Carmen was murdered, “there’s no answers to our questions.”


As Valentine’s Day came to a close last year, the Schentrups waited at a Marriott hotel with the frantic families and friends of the MSD students and faculty members who were still unaccounted for. At two a.m., some FBI officers arrived to tell April and Phil the news they had been dreading for hours. One member of the school board was there that night, too. “I remember telling her that I just wanted to know what happened,” April told me. “At the time I was just thinking about Evelyn, to make sure it doesn’t happen again with Evelyn or at MSD.” The........

© Politico