On February 14, 2018, a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people, injuring many more. Since then, the push for action on gun violence in the United States–an ongoing and urgent fight that has frequently met with resistance from the firearms lobby–has gained considerable momentum. Parkland students including David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez organized a national tour calling for reforms like background checks, and thousands more participated in school walkouts and protests to draw attention to a pattern of violence that affects thousands every year.
But even with the renewed focus on ending gun violence in America after Parkland, young people are still living under the threat of firearms. In the last year, 1,200 lost their lives. Their stories did not make national headlines, but together, they testify to the extent and the tragedy of this growing issue.
And over the last year, a team of 215 student journalists from around the country worked to ensure they would not go forgotten.
After the Parkland shooting, The Trace, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to covering gun violence in America, reached out to high school journalism departments to engage students in a project. To find them, explains Akoto Ofori-Atta, project director at The Trace, they worked with Global Student Square, a nonprofit founded by Beatrice Motamedi that connects students with news outlets to cover global issues that they have insight into. Gun violence, Ofori-Atta says, “is students’ story to tell.” After Parkland, “it became very clear that the debate around gun violence in this country was becoming centered around youth, and the way kids have to interact with gun violence,” she adds.”As we were thinking about what this moment demanded, it was really the young voices.”
The aim of the project, Since Parkland, was to identify and tell the story of every young person killed by a firearm over the course of the last 12 months. They gathered names from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which collects data on shootings, but the information is often sparse, listing only victims’ ages and location. The student reporters wanted to give them life through their stories. They appear together on the project website as short and sensitive profiles, often accompanied by a photograph submitted by a family or a loved one.
There are stories of children like Jeremiah and Eli Ascencio, inexplicably killed while spending time together outside in their hometown of Moreno Valley, California. Many children, like 10-year-old Andy Kim of Silver Spring, Maryland, and 15-year-old Sharon Castro of McLean, Virginia, were killed by their parents. Some were killed accidentally, more intentionally. In many of the stories, the reporters describe the children’s hopes for the future. One student journalist, Kira Davis, learned about King Thomas III as she was writing about the 15-year-old’s murder during a home invasion in Fort Worth, Texas. He was a rapper, so she listened to his music and composed her profile on him and his life in that music form.
For students like Jimmy Rodgers, a 15-year-old from the Chicago area who wrote six profiles on young victims since September 2018, what was important was to capture who each person was. “At first, I was really nervous to tell the stories of these kids,” he says, “but after a while I began to really connect with them.” He told the story of 17-year-old Amer Miller, who had written an essay on ending gun violence before being shot by a man who tried to rob him of his iPhone. “I’ve been anti-gun for a while now–I’m only a sophomore,” Rodgers says. After working on this project, he’s determined to do more to end gun violence.
As the project unfolded, journalists at the Miami Herald and other newspapers in the McClatchy group published longer stories with the students, building on their reporting and amplifying the work they were carrying out through the Since Parkland project. Those stories are available here.
Since Parkland is not meant as a finite project. Rather, those working on it want it to continue to evolve. And the reporters recognize that the data on gun violence is still lacking; they welcome corrections or additions.