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 grieve and return to class, 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.
Erika Koines, a 15-year-old freshman, followed her classmates outside as a fire alarm rang, then found her classroom already closed after she heeded an administrator’s scream to go back inside, she recalls in the video above.
“Where do we go?” she asked.
“Just run to any open room!” she was told.
Watch more Voices of Parkland Survivors on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.
Koines wound up in a room with teachers she didn’t know who rushed the students into closets to hide.
“I texted my sister, ‘I love you,’ and she said, ‘Erika are you okay?’ and I said, ‘I’m crying right now ’cause I am near it,’ because I heard the cops and everything,” Koines recalls.
“She said ‘I love you, you’ll be okay. Erika calm down. Are you okay? Please keep texting me. Hello? Erika please text me.’ ”
Koines knew several of the victims personally.
“I went to most of their memorial services and viewings, and that was really hard,” she says.
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.