Emotional survivors and parents of the school shooting last week in Parkland, Florida, confronted President Donald Trump on Wednesday during a “listening session” at the White House.
Among them was Sam Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School whose best friend was killed in the shooting.
“I’m here to use my voice because I know he can’t,” said Zeif, who was in school at the time of the shooting along with his 14-year-old brother.
“I lost a best friend who’s practically a brother, and that’s why I’m here,” Zeif said as he openly wept beside Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan, 6, was murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. “I turned 18 the day after [the Parkland shooting], woke up to the news that my best friend was gone. And I don’t understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR. I was reading today that a person, 20 years old, walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID. How is it that easy to buy that type of weapon? How have we not stopped this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I’m sitting with a mother that lost her son. It’s still happening.”
“We need to do something, and that’s why we’re here,” Zeif tearfully added. “So let’s be strong for the fallen who don’t have a voice to speak anymore and let’s never let this happen again. Please, please.”
Andrew Pollack, a parent whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting in Florida, was also overwhelmed with emotion and anger as he stood next to his sons to address the president.
“I’m here because my daughter has no voice,” Pollack said. “She was murdered last week and she was taken from us. Shot nine times on the third floor. We as a country failed our children. This shouldn’t happen.”
“We need to come together as a country and work on what’s important, and that’s protecting our children in the schools. That’s the only thing that matters right now,” he said. “It’s simple. It’s not difficult. We protect airports, we protect concerts, stadiums, embassies, the Department of Education that I walked in today, that has a security guard in the elevator. How do you think that makes me feel?”
“I’m very angry that this happened because it keeps happening. 9/11 happened once and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here with this administration and me. I’m not going to sleep until it’s fixed. And Mr. President, we’re going to fix it.”
Pointing to his three sons, Pollack said, “My boys need to live with this. … Me, I’m a man, but to see your children go through this — buried their sister.”
“There should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it,” Pollack continued, his voice raising in anger. “And I’m pissed! Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again. She’s not here. … I would have been at the school every day if I knew it was that dangerous. It’s enough! Let’s get together, work with the president and fix the schools. That’s it. No other discussions. Security, whatever we have to do.”
“I’m never going to see my kid again,” he said. “I want you all to know that. Never, ever will I see my kid. I want it to sink in. It’s eternity. My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see again. And it’s simple. We could fix it!”
President Trump nodded silently along for much of the meeting, which was billed as a “listening session” intended to discuss ways to prevent school shootings. He began the session by vowing to “do something about this horrible situation” and said, “We’re going to get it done. There will be action, not just talk.”
The meeting was also attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and local parents, students and teachers, as well as people from groups representing survivors of the Sandy Hook and Columbine shootings.
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The White House previously said the goal of the meeting was to have a “conversation on how to improve school safety” and that the president “looks forward to an open discussion on how we can keep our students safe.” Trump is also slated to meet with state and local officials on school safety at the White House next week.
Ahead of Trump’s meeting with advocates in the State Dining Room, protesters gathered outside the White House Wednesday afternoon to call for gun control reform, chanting slogans such as “What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! The NRA has got to go!”
The president and First Lady Melania Trump met with victims of the shooting in Florida on Friday, and the president documented the visit with several photos on his Instagram.
“Our entire Nation, with one heavy heart, continues to pray for the victims and their families in Parkland, Florida,” read a caption from his Instagram. “To teachers, law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals who responded so bravely in the face of danger: We THANK YOU for your courage — and we are here for you, ALWAYS!”
Trump has been criticized for his responses to the shooting, including one in which he appeared to blame people who knew the shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was a “big problem” who should have been reported to the police, and another in which he faulted the FBI’s admitted failure to follow up on a report about the school shooter.
One student who spoke at Wednesday’s listening session said that Trump’s new push to ban bump stocks, devices that turn weapons into machine guns, was a step in the right direction, but many, including Sandy Hook mom Nicole Hockley, urged the president to go further.
“You have the ability to save lives today, please don’t waste this,” she told Trump, pointing to gun “legislation available to you right now.”
“How many more deaths can we take as a country?” she implored. “Don’t let that happen on your watch.”