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March for Our Lives: Parkland shooting survivor attending NYC event will keep fighting for 'positive change' 

Sam Hendler, 16, will travel from Parkland, Florida, to take part in the March for Our Lives event in Manhattan on March 24.

Parkland shooting survivor Sam Hendler, 16, top right,

Parkland shooting survivor Sam Hendler, 16, top right, will take part in the NYC March for Our Lives event on March 24. Photo Credit: Handout / Bea Hendler

In a matter of weeks, 16-year-old Sam Hendler went from honors student to gun control advocate, and now he’s taking his cause to New York City.

As a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Hendler said pushing for gun law reforms has helped him cope with the unimaginable tragedy that befell his school on Feb. 14.

“It definitely helps me personally, because you can see everyone in the community and around the nation are coming together for one cause,” Hendler said. “And it’s an important cause that will eventually save lives and prevent more tragedies like this from happening.”

Hendler, a student senator on his class board who loves to play hockey and hang out with his friends, joined thousands at a gun control demonstration in Tallahassee on Feb. 21 and met with state legislators afterward to discuss the issue. He’ll take part in the March for Our Lives demonstration in Manhattan on Saturday and said he hopes to see everyone unify behind the cause.

“No lives should be lost due to the use of automatic weapons, and I just want to come together with everyone else in the nation who is supporting us to thank them and keep it going,” he added.

Hendler said he'll read the names of the 17 Parkland shooting victims during the rally, which will take place at 11 a.m. at West 72nd Street and Central Park West.

The details of that Valentine’s Day, when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly walked into Building 12 of the high school campus and opened fire, and its aftermath are recalled vividly by Hendler.

“Around five minutes before school was over, I went to sit next to the door because we were packing up and then the fire alarm went off,” he said.

When he got outside, it appeared to be a normal fire drill until he noticed people running down the field, “and then we realized that there was something actually wrong,” he added.

Hendler’s mom, Eva Hendler, a teacher at a middle school in the same district, said she learned of the shooting after cellphones in her students’ backpacks began buzzing while they were locked down.

“At this point I snuck out of the closet and went and checked my cellphone, and I saw the alert come up on my phone about Marjory Stoneman Douglas. And then quickly got on the internet and saw that and I just sat on the floor,” she said. “Within seconds Sam called me to say that he was OK.”

The Parkland community is still grieving, Eva Hendler added, but she believes they’re starting to “come out of it a little bit.”

“I thank God every single day that he was not hurt, even though it hurts me so much to know that there are 17 lives and families that were totally shattered,” she said.

Hendler said the shooting has changed his perspective on life, adding that he has learned to be grateful for “every hour that you get in this world.”

“I’m even more grateful to be with my friends and my family. I don’t get as annoyed. I have more patience with people because you never know when you’re going to see them again,” he said.

Getting involved in the rapidly rising national discourse on gun control and the Second Amendment has helped Hendler move forward in the wake of the tragedy.

“It’s just a lot easier to know that you can talk about it with one another and that they’ll understand what you’re going through, and it’s just a lot better that everyone is able to speak to one another,” he said of the student-led movement.

Less than a month after the Parkland shooting, Florida lawmakers passed sweeping gun reforms that include raising the minimum purchase age.

“I’m pretty satisfied that the Florida Legislature banned pretty much all guns until the age of 21,” Hendler said.

The House of Representatives passed a school safety bill on March 14, exactly one month after the Parkland massacre, that allocates more money toward metal detectors, locks and other security measures, but the student advocates still have a long way to go.

Hendler said he hopes the March for Our Lives events — in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the country — will help them realize their goal of banning assault weapons and automatic rifles.

“I just believe that these are weapons of war and they should be kept in war,” he said. “I respect that people have their Second Amendment right. But in the Constitution, it says the Second Amendment is to establish a well-regulated militia, but in this scenario, there is no militia.

“It’s just a sick person who decided to come into a school with an automatic weapon and just completely slaughter innocent kids and adults [who] had no way of defending themselves.”

Hendler said he wishes those who oppose the proposed weapon bans would consider everything that his classmates had gone through.

“Hopefully that can change at least a couple people’s minds because every single vote at this point actually really matters to help the ultimate goal,” he added. “We’re not going to stop until positive change comes out of this.”


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