Jordyn Laudanno, 17, was one of the last students to escape Wednesday’s deadly shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“[On Wednesday] morning, the thing I was worried about the most was a Trig test; by the end of the day I was running for my life,” she tells PEOPLE.
Laudanno was in her last period of the day at school in Parkland — an affluent suburb of Fort Lauderdale — when she says she first heard the gunshots.
“At the time, we didn’t think anything of it, because why would you think there was gun shots going on in your school?”
Then, the fire alarm was pulled, and her class thought it was due to a nearby cooking class.
“We go downstairs normally – all talking, thinking everything is fine, and I look up, and people coming towards us had these terrified looks on their faces,” she explains. “They start running towards us. Then, I heard at least six gunshots. And I saw a couple of people go down and I didn’t know if they were ducking or got shot.”
Laudanno says she looked to her teacher, who simply told her, “you need to run.”
The junior grabbed her friend, who incidentally, had just underwent a knee operation, and they took off as fast as they could. “We were running from the shooter – I didn’t know if he was getting closer – I just kept hearing gunshots. Everyone was looking at each other – like, ‘Is this real life? Is this actually happening to us right now?’ ”
She made it to another classroom with her teacher and friend and hid in a closet with a large group.
“There was about 50 of us, and I still didn’t know what was going on, like, ‘Is this a drill?’ ”
Laudanno says confusion about the drill was not surprising as students had been warned earlier in the week that the school would hold a drill “with blank bullets fired.”
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As the terrified group hid in the closet for over two hours, they began to see pictures and news on their phones, and soon realized the situation was very real.
“People were texting me from other schools to tell me what was going on at my school, because I had no idea … I found out one of my friends was shot in the leg,” she says. “It was so real, I couldn’t believe that people were actually getting hurt and dying.”
She says another friend told her that in a separate classroom the students had to remain silent while watching their teacher get shot.
“The teacher went to lock the door and was shot dead,” Laudanno says her friend told her. “[The teacher was] laid on the floor with the door open and they just had to keep quiet while the shooter was walking around.”
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As Laudanno and her group waited for help, the danger grew closer.
“We kept hearing gun shots, someone had an anxiety attack in the closet, she fell down.”
Laudanno said she started texting her mom from the closet.
“I didn’t want to freak her out, but I wanted to say ‘I love you’. Just in case. I didn’t know what to say,” she says. “My teacher tried to keep us calm.”
Finally, the group got word that the SWAT team was coming for them. “We hear these loud, banging noises, and we all thought we were going to die right then and there. I kept telling my mom, ‘I love you and I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ ”
Because the shooter was still on the loose, precautions had to be taken.
“They yelled, ‘everyone get on the floor, put your hands in the air,’ ” Laudanno said. “They were screaming at us, and that’s when I knew I was going to throw up. They had their guns pointed at us to make sure the shooter wasn’t in the room with us and that none of us had weapons.”
Once the room had been cleared, the group was ushered out. “They told us, ‘Keep your eyes forward and straight,’ ” she says. “They didn’t want us to see any blood or dead bodies … I couldn’t even look to the left or right of me because I didn’t know what I would see.”
After getting ushered out of the school building, Laudanno says the SWAT team told them to run.
“I passed the car I drove to school in,” she says. “[On Wednesday] morning, we were driving to get tutored for our trigonometry test. And [on Wednesday] afternoon, we fought for our lives. If I hadn’t run, I probably would’ve gotten shot.”
“As soon as I got to the front of the school, I threw up three times,” she says. “It was so scary. It didn’t even feel real. I was hearing so many different things, I thought my head was going to explode. I didn’t know if my friends were okay.”
She believes they were one of the last groups escorted out. “We were the only students left. Everyone else on campus was dead.”
Laudanno says all she knew about the gunman, who has now been identified as 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, was that he had been expelled last year.
“He was a very weird kid. He wasn’t allowed to bring a backpack to school when he was here because he brought knives,” she says. “And he had this obsession with guns. People used to joke that, ‘if someone shot up the school, it would be him.’ I have no idea why no one spoke out about it, this could have been prevented.”
As to his state of mind, Laudanno says that Cruz’s mother passed away recently, but that friends of hers who spoke to him after his mom died said “he didn’t seem like he completely lost it or anything.” She adds, “Nothing ever, ever would be a good enough reason for what he did. There’s no words for what he deserves.”
Cruz has not yet entered a plea and is due to make a court appearance Thursday.
Now, Laudanno is just waiting with fear to find out who is on the list of those who died.
“I’m so afraid to see the list,” she says. “One of the security guards died and saved at least three students – he was in critical condition in surgery and just died.”
Most of her close friends are alive, but she says, “we are okay, but no one is okay.”
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“I don’t think I’m ever going to experience anything as terrifying as what went down today,” she adds. “That type of fear is like a fear I can’t even describe.
“I need to know why, why would he do this to us? He ruined everything. I’m never going to be able to pick up my backpack and think ‘I’m going to school’ without thinking about running for my life.”
She is gathering strength from her friends and family — including her parents, Michelle and Brian, who ran through traffic to find her once the roads had been closed. She says the community is sticking together.
“Douglas is such a good school. I never felt unsafe or scared at school.”
Laudanno says she is also filled with anger that yet another mass shooting has taken place in the United States.
“How many times is it going to take for mass shootings like this until someone actually makes a difference and we can feel safe?” she asks. “Everyone just ignores it, puts it to the side when they should be bringing attention to it. This is what comes from it.”
“This is why we need gun control,” she continues. “How did he get a rifle? How did he get a rifle like that? This keeps happening, obviously nothing we are doing is working, obviously we need to do something different, obviously it needs to be gun control. What else are we going to do? Yes, people are going to get guns no matter what. But with gun control they have a lesser chance. It can be better, people can feel safer. Why not do it? What are the cons? It’s so crazy that it just keeps happening.”
“I hope this is the last straw, but knowing what’s happening in our world today, it probably won’t be. But I have hope,” she says.