"With about 20 minutes of class left, I heard the first shots that I've ever heard in my life of a gun," says survivor Kraemer, 17

By Elaine Aradillas and Jeff Vespa
March 07, 2018 07:00 AM

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.

Dylan Kraemer, a 17-year-old junior at the school, was in history class on Feb. 14 when his room was punctured by bullets.

Watch more Voices of Parkland Survivors on, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device.

“With about 20 minutes of class left, I heard the first shots that I’ve ever heard in my life of a gun,” Kraemer recalls in the video above.

Around him, multiple kids had been killed.

“It’s not even surprising when something like this happens anymore and that’s not how it should be anywhere,” he says, “and I just want people to know that this needs to change and gun laws need to change and background checks need to change and schools need to be safer.”

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.