Texas shooting survivors seek purpose in shadow of parkland 850 gas block

“We can’t be compared to the Parkland kids,” said Callie Wylie, a 16-year-old soccer player who lost eight classmates and two teachers in last week’s attack. “It’s too new. As we move on, maybe we’ll build a stronger stance. Maybe we won’t. But I hope we do.”

Jessi Ghawi was gunned down with 11 others when a man opened fire in a Colorado movie theater six years ago. That’s when Phillips began a morbid mission to visit the sites of American massacres to comfort the families of the dead and the ones who made it out alive. She believes her work can’t end until the country gets serious about addressing the ease with which killers can get access to guns.

“America isn’t handling this well,” said Phillips, herself a gun owner who grew up around firearms. “I hear politicians say all the time, ‘We’re not going to let this define our community. We’re not going to let this define who we are. Aurora Strong. Las Vegas Strong. Parkland Strong.’”

Each shooting has been followed by pleas for change and yet here Phillips stood again, among teenagers wearing shirts reading “Santa Fe Strong.” The phrase has appeared on bumper stickers and storefronts and tattoos. The tight-knit community has gathered for vigil after vigil, day after day.

Greg Zanis, a Chicago carpenter who makes and delivers the crosses, said Santa Fe was particularly tough on him. Because everybody knew everybody else, the 10 deaths touched the entire town. Everyone is dressed in green and gold, the high school’s colors.

Wylie, too, believes the town must heal itself first before taking a stand. She said she admires the Parkland survivors for turning death and despair into a movement. She knows classmates who have been in touch with them who might try to do the same in Santa Fe.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a firm gun rights advocate, convened a roundtable discussion Tuesday with a promise of “swift and meaningful action” to prevent future massacres. But drastic changes to Texas’ gun laws — among the most permissive in the nation — are unlikely. State lawmakers have focused on calls to “harden” school campuses.

Santa Fe High School already had an award-winning safety plan and two armed security guards on campus. They had practice: The building went into lockdown in February when what sounded like gunshots were reported at the school. It was, that time, a false alarm. Wylie thought they were ready.

Melissa Fewell, a mother of two children who are now terrified to go to school, launched an online petition demanding metal detectors at the schoolhouse doors. When surrounding districts reopened Monday, she read with terror that six threats — either children caught with guns or caught threatening to bring them in — had been reported in that single day in Houston-area schools.

Trolls will harass them on social media. Thieves will start fundraising pages in their name, and they’ll never see a cent. The reporters and volunteers will leave, and there will be silence. The sounds of ambulances or helicopters or fireworks will feel like hell.

And there’s always the prospect of another mass shooting to remind them that the cycle is starting again. Every massacre seems so similar, and yet each has its own rhythm, Phillips has noticed. Rural communities, like Santa Fe, tend to draw inward and reject calls for gun control.