When a Code Red alarm signaled an active gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, senior Delaney Tarr went into hiding with a teacher and 18 other students in a darkened classroom closet.
Until that moment, the 17-year-old bore lesser burdens, like compiling restaurant reviews for the school paper and picking out a prom dress, she told The Washington Post.
But after 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz allegedly used an assault rifle to kill 17 people that day — 14 students and three staff members — Tarr has devoted herself to preventing future massacres.
Now, she’s among the most vocal and visible of Stoneman Douglas students — including Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky — pushing for change to prevent gun violence, lobbying lawmakers, and rallying their peers behind the #NeverAgain movement and the upcoming March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on March 24, as well as sister marches throughout the country.
“We need to address the failures that have created a … horrible situation like this,” Tarr said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. “All of the things that have failed us, all of the systems that have failed us. I also believe we need to make it harder for people to access guns when they are not mentally stable, when they are young, when they are not in a place where they should be owning a weapon like this.”
Here are five things to know about the student activist.
1. The Student Journalist Had Recently Talked With Mom About What She’d Do in Event of Mass Shooting
An aspiring journalist, Tarr took a broadcast production class during her freshman year and served as anchor of the school’s news broadcast during her junior year.
The day of the shooting, she had interviewed students earlier as part of her reporting responsibilities, her mother Jennifer said.
Not long before the day of the shooting, mother and daughter had discussed how Tarr would react in the event of a mass shooting. Staff members such as her journalism teacher, Melissa Falkowski, had sought and received training in January about emergencies like an active shooter, and they alerted students to the proper response, which included locking classroom doors.
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Tarr and her mother agreed she should keep her car keys handy, and if she was not already protected behind a classroom door, she’d race to her car and hide in the hatchback. Otherwise, with no locks on places such as school bathrooms, “You’ll be a sitting duck,” her mother told her.
2. As the Shooter Moved Around Campus, Tarr Tried to Keep Classmates Calm
Many students and staff thought the fire alarm that drew students into the open near the end of the class day on Feb. 14, was a joke or a drill, and if it were the latter, it felt ill-timed so close to dismissal, Falkowski told PEOPLE. But Falkowski dutifully moved her students into a hallway and toward the exit, until a school safety officer swiftly turned them back with shouts of “Code Red!”
As the teacher and students checked their phones, breaking-news reports confirmed the danger. Falkowski moved the students — already crouched in a corner behind the locked door and out of view from the hallway — toward a classroom storage closet.
Then she told her students to send texts saying they were safe in that space, and watched as the calmer teenagers comforted the others. Tarr texted her mother to say that she was doing exactly that.
3. Tarr Told Lawmakers: ‘We Want Gun Reform,’ and ‘We Are Coming After You’
On the one-week anniversary of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas, Tarr joined with student survivors who swarmed the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee.
“Coming here today as a teenager full of passion, a bit too much passion, was very disappointing,” she said afterward. After speaking with legislators, “try as they might, the most we’ve gotten out of them is, ‘we’ll keep you in our thoughts, you are so strong, you are so powerful.'”
“We’ve heard enough of that,” she told the media while standing at a podium surrounded by classmates and supporters. “We came here prepared, and we are going to come to every single meeting with every legislator prepared. We know what we want.”
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“We want gun reform. We want common-sense gun laws. We want stronger mental-health checks and background checks to work in conjunction. We want a better age limit. We want privatized selling to be completely reformed so you can’t just walk into a building with $130 and walk out with an AR-15.”
She added: “If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago, and you would be making change now. So this is to every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the N.R.A., no longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is that you want to do. Because we are coming after you, we are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action, demanding that you make a change.”
4. She Tells Gun Owners, ‘We’re Not Taking Away Your Liberty’
In a broadcast interview on The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, Tarr and fellow Stoneman Douglas senior Carly Novel addressed critics of the students’ campaign for “common-sense gun laws.”
“Why do you want to take away our liberty?” Klepper asked.
“Well, we’re not taking away your liberty, actually, and that’s something we’ve tried to make clear time and time again,” Tarr said.
“Our goal is, of course, to let our younger siblings, to let our cousins, to let all the younger people that we know in our lives to go to school without that school being shot up. Ultimately that is our goal, to make the world safer, to make our country safer, because this is an American issue. We’ve seen so much gun control legislation pass through in other countries and it has worked.”
5. She Asks Herself: ‘How Do We Keep More Children From Being Murdered?’
In an essay for Teen Vogue, Tarr wrote: “Our appearances in the media, of course, are important, and they provide us a platform to make a difference. But we are still teenagers. Educated and vocal teenagers, yes, but teenagers nonetheless. We are still high school students. Just days ago, I was most worried about which projects we had due. Just days ago, my friends and I were planning our graduation trips; we were planning prom buses. Just days ago, underclassmen were stressing over standardized tests and studying for the next AP exam.”
“There are so many things, so many simple teenage things, that now feel insignificant: Who will we go to prom with? What college are we going to? Now, the only thing that dominates our mind is: How do we keep more children from being murdered? We have been forced to push aside the integral, simple realities of being young adults, and be outspoken about an unspeakable tragedy, one we shouldn’t have had to witness.”
She added: “But, I refuse to feel hopeless. Our childhoods may have been stolen from us but there are so many lives that can still be protected, and saved. Just because this has happened to many before us does not mean it must continue to happen to those after.”