Sophomore Stevie Schapiro stood in Kogan plaza Wednesday night surrounded by about 70 of her peers, holding electric candles in Dixie cups to remember the 17 people killed in a mass shooting in her hometown last week.
“I’m not an angry person, but tonight, I am fueled by anger,” Schapiro told the crowd gathered.
An alumna of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where the shooting took place, Schapiro said she organized the event to draw attention to the need for stricter gun control polices and to honor the victims – most of them students – from her alma mater.
“We will not back down,” she said. “As a citizen of Parkland, I will continue to speak up and spread awareness about the necessary action needed to take place in order to create change.”
Schapiro organized the vigil through a Facebook event and personally invited people to speak on behalf of Parkland and other communities that have experienced mass shootings.
The shooting, which occurred Feb. 14, sparked renewed demands for gun control legislation, especially after survivors of the massacre mobilized to pressure politicians to take action. Earlier Wednesday, high school students from across the D.C. area walked out of classes and marched to Capitol Hill to join the calls for reform.
Other speakers at the vigil, many of them students with ties to Stoneman Douglas High School, called on attendees to contact their representatives and demand change to prevent another gun-related tragedy from occurring in more schools across the nation.
Faculty and performance groups also took part in the solemn event. The GWU Troubadours, a campus a cappella group, performed three songs after a moment of silence for the victims.
The organizers later opened the microphone to anyone who wished to add their thoughts.
Reagan Edgren, a freshman at American University and alumna of Stoneman Douglas High School, recalled receiving text messages from her younger sister who was at the school during the shooting.
“There was a seven-minute period in my life between when I first sent my text to my sister asking if she was OK and when she replied. Those were the scariest seven minutes of my life,” she said.
Edgren added that once she learned her sister was safe, Edgren frantically helped her friend Robert Schentrup try to locate his sister, who was not answering her phone. They later learned that his sister, Carmen, was one of the victims.
“Today was Carmen Schentrup’s birthday. She was supposed to be 17,” Edgren said. “Yesterday, her parents buried her.”
Gavin Coble, a sophomore transfer student and U.S. Air Force veteran, listed several of the mass shootings involving semi-automatic weapons that have occurred since 2012 and called on Congress to enact tighter controls on those guns.
“The shooters have used a weapon I trained with in the military,” he said at the vigil. “A weapon I was given not for sport, a weapon I was given not for hunting. I trained with this weapon because it is specifically designed to end human life at a mass rate.”
After the event, Schapiro made a Facebook group entitled “GWU Supports MSD and Parkland,” a forum she said is intended to allow students to continue the discussion about preventing mass shootings.
“My heart, as broken as it is right now, is full seeing all these positive and possible changes that can be made in the future and right now,” Schapiro said. “Right now we have the say and we need to speak up and we have to continue what’s going on in my hometown ‘cause they can’t do it alone.”