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.
Lizzie Eaton, a 16-year-old junior, recalls that until two fire alarms suddenly rang out that afternoon, followed by confirmation of a gunman on campus, “our worries seemed so important, like the world was ending over a piece of homework.”
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In the video above, she recites a poem about the rising panic as she and others hid in a classroom, frantically awaiting rescue from the overheard gunfire.
“More lives are lost as the minutes amass,” she wrote. “This is a dream. I know it will pass.”
The poem continued:
“The shooter is still going. Just stop it, please. I wish we could do something instead of sitting on our knees.
“It’s been two hours now, sitting in the same spot. We hope we don’t hear anyone else has been shot.
“News keeps updating, casualties increasing, continuing to hope we can keep breathing.”
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.