On Feb. 14, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lost 17 victims to a tragic mass shooting.
In the days and weeks afterward, as students and families grieved and returned to class, many of the teens who attend the Parkland, Florida, high school have been speaking out about their experiences and demanding there be changes in gun safety legislation so that something like this can never happen again.
As part of a social media initiative called #whatif, photojournalist Jeff Vespa captured students’ heart-wrenching tales of survival — and their determination to create a future free of gun violence.
Their powerful words and portraits are featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Emily Burke, a 15-year-old freshman, lost her friend and soccer teammate Alyssa Alhadeff in the massacre, she says in the video above.
Watch more Voices of Parkland Survivors on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.
“She was shot in the hand, her heart and her head,” Burke says.
“All of the people that knew Alyssa, we’ve all come together. We’d just tried to spend time, bring our memories of her,” she says. “We’ve made shirts for her. We’re trying to raise money for her family and do this college fund that her family wants us to help with, so if any player gets a scholarship, we can help them get through college.”
Burke also talks about the strangeness of returning to her life as a student.
“It feels like we’re just going to go back to school and everything’s going to be normal, and that all of our friends will be there,” she says. “It just feels like something sad happened. But it just doesn’t feel like this happened, something this big.”
The teens have planned the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on March 24 to demand changes in gun legislation and already the event has expanded to include more than 400 related demonstrations in cities across the globe.