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 some 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.
Watch more Voices of Parkland Survivors on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.
Sam Schneider, a 16-year-old junior at Parkland, was at home when the shooting occurred. He says his sadness has turned to anger as he now pushes to prevent more gun violence.
For hours after the massacre, he says, he agonized waiting to hear whether his sister and friends at school had survived.
“My biggest fear throughout this whole thing was that I wasn’t sure who was going to be okay,” he says in the video above.
“I was afraid to contact anyone because when you do the drills,” he says. “They always tell you not to call anyone or text them because the slightest sound that a phone makes could alert the shooter.”
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.