'We Cannot Live Normally': Stoneman Douglas Survivor on the March for Our Lives

Carly Novell spent two hours hiding in a closet during the Stoneman Douglas school shooting in February. Now, she's calling for others to stand up and march with her for an end to gun violence this weekend.

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Mar 23 2018, 5:55pm

Image of Carly Novell via CNN. Photo of memorial by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Before the shooting took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, Carly Novell’s boyfriend, who lives in Atlanta, was planning to come down to Florida and surprise her for prom. After the Valentine’s Day shooting happened—during which Novell, a 17-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas, spent two hours hiding in a closet fearing for her life—he ended up donating the money he’d saved for his trip to a victims fund instead.

On March 24, thousands of people will gather in Washington, DC, for the March for Our Lives, a rally spearheaded by teens who survived the Parkland school shooting. In an interview with Vox, Delaney Tarr, a 17-year-old senior at Stoneman Douglas, called the march “the ultimate show of prominence and support and just rage toward the things that have been happening in our country for so long.” On the same day, more than 800 sister marches will take place across the country and around the globe.

Novell will be in Atlanta this weekend, marching and speaking at the March For Our Lives Atlanta. She plans to be in town to surprise her boyfriend for his prom, while continuing to call for an end to gun violence.

According to a recent analysis (beginning with the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 through mid-March) by the Washington Post, more than 187,000 students have experienced a shooting during school hours. Those kids came from almost 200 primary or secondary schools in at least 36 states; upwards of 129 kids, educators, staff and family members were killed, and another 255 injured. Though the teens calling for gun reform who have captured the attention of the media are mostly white, the Washington Post found that the children who were most likely to experience gun violence on campus were black and Hispanic.

“Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last,” reads, in part, the March For Our Lives’ mission statement. “We live in fear.”

That’s why Novell says it’s important for her as a shooting survivor to participate in Saturday’s march: “I have a first-hand experience of how gun violence can change someone’s whole entire life. We cannot live normally right now,” she says. “As much as speaking about gun reform from a logical standpoint makes sense, you don’t see the emotion of someone that has been impacted by gun violence. You don’t see how much it hurts, how scared we are to go anywhere. I know a lot of my friends, we look for places to hide in every room we walk into.”

"I know a lot of my friends, we look for places to hide in every room we walk into.”

Novell has captured people’s attention with her story of being the second person in her family to survive a mass shooting: The day after a 19-year-old former student went on a killing rampage at her school, she tweeted about her grandfather, who, at the age of 12, also hid in a closet during the first mass shooting in America. “These events shouldn't be repetitive,” she wrote. “Something has to change.”

When she speaks on Saturday—more than 8,000 people have RSVPed on Facebook to attend Atlanta’s march—Novell says her message will focus on how gun reform gives people the opportunity to live their lives without being scared. Arming teachers, adding extra security, and making students carry see-through backpacks—those solutions aren’t enough to make a real impact, she says. “That’s telling you to live in fear. I don’t think gun control is living in fear.”

Novell says what’s most moving to her is seeing how other teens are stepping up to call for gun safety legislation. “My friends are getting suspended for walking out of their schools in different states,” she says. “I feel like this is the first time that my generation is seen as more than just cell-phone-addicted teenagers. For the first time, we’re more than that, we’re so much more than that: We’re doing something to make a difference and it’s incredible.”

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Novell also admits that being involved in this advocacy work has caused her to relive the trauma of the day 17 people were murdered at her high school. “It’s a difficult thing,” she says, before adding: “It’s important to do this. It’s important to tell people what happened to us, and it’s important to not let people forget.”

She continues: “If we step away, and if we all stop talking, then no one is really gonna care anymore. We need people to listen to us, and we need people to see what needs to be changed.