February 21, 2018 7:01 pm

Julie Buckingham: Students want fate in their own hands after innocence stolen

Student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, aboard a bus enroute to Tallahassee, Fla. to demand gun control.

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

It used to be when news happened elsewhere in the world, reporters and media hosts would simply comment from afar.

Eventually, with the advent of better resources and the internet, there was a chance you could reach someone on the phone.

Now, with the explosion of social media, the world has become very, very small. Especially when your newsmakers are teenagers. As we all know, their phones are basically another appendage.

For parents, the cell is often a blessing and a curse. In this case, it was a blessing.

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RELATED: Florida high school shooting: what we know about alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz

As an active shooter armed with an AR-15 entered a high school in Parkland, Florida last week — a school the alleged shooter once attended and was expelled from — students hiding from the gunfire used those phones to text their Moms, Dads and siblings. Their heartbreaking messages are now finding their way onto the internet for us all to see.

It’s difficult to read. Things like ‘If I don’t make it I love you and I appreciated everything you did for me” texted Sarah Crescitelli from her bathroom hiding spot. She was lucky. She survived.

READ MORE: ‘If I don’t make it I love you’: Harrowing text messages Florida students sent to parents

Now, one week later, the halls Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are safe. A suspect is in custody. The courts will deal with the accused, Nikolas Cruz.

But the students who were hiding in closets and washrooms on Valentine’s Day are rising up. A group of about 20 of them have spent hours on those phones, researching, tweeting and instagramming. They created the hashtag #NEVERAGAIN. Buses were rented, signs were made and a trip to the state capital took place, to urge lawmakers for gun control.

All of this in less than a week since they witnessed their friends being killed.

READ MORE: Florida school shooting survivors flood state capitol to demand action on guns

Which brings me back to the cellphone, internet, and social media.

We in Winnipeg are 3,559 kilometres from Parkland, Florida. At least that’s what Google tells me. When I started in this business, there would be no way I could reach someone. Today is different.

In just a couple of clicks, I was able to reach John Barnitt, a Stoneman student, a shooting survivor, and part of the group organizing the campaign.

I have had the chance to interview Prime Ministers, famous singers, bands and people from all walks of life. The ones that are the most difficult to talk to are those who have endured unspeakable tragedy. But, admittedly, most of those I’ve interviewed are adults. Not a teenager. I was actually nervous. I did not want to add to his pain. Their pain. So, I began our chat with what was in my heart. Yes, I’m a host, but I’m also a human. I’m lucky enough to be the Mom of a son — a high school student who is fortunate enough to never have known violence like this… and gets to turn 17-years-old today.

RELATED: These were the victims of the Florida school shooting

John was passionate, well-spoken and concerned if we could hear him on the bus as he rode with 100 fellow students to Tallahassee to speak to lawmakers.

I told him they had already voted down an effort to bring back a bill to ban rifles like the one that was used in the school shooting.

He was frustrated, but, remained undeterred, saying they wanted to meet face to face with officials so ”they can’t hide from us”.

“We can’t see how they are viewing this at a different angle, because, if anyone has a heart, they can realize that children’s lives are more important than money,” Barnitt told us.

Money helps though, especially when you’re not only lobbying in your state, but plan to take the fight to Washington.

A-list celebrities like George Clooney and his human rights lawyer wife, Amal, have donated $500,000 to the effort. Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg have followed suit. Winfrey says the teens remind her of civil rights activists of the 1960’s.

It hasn’t been easy.

READ MORE: YouTube removes conspiracy video claiming Florida school shooting survivor is an actor

While social media gets the attention of radio stations in Canada and celebrities with big cash to help, it also brings trolls. The students who have dealt with so much already are being called ‘crisis actors’ who are part of a conspiracy. On top of calling for change, they’re having to defend their characters. Despite this, Barnitt says they’re not going away.

The March for Our Lives in Washington and a national school walkout is set for March 24th.

We treaded carefully, but I did ask how he and the others are dealing with what happened to them and ultimately the loss of 17 of their peers. Barnitt spoke candidly saying they’re channelling their grief into this effort to see change happen.

“We want to honour them. We want to prove to them and everyone else that this should never happen again,” said firmly. “We are going to be the last mass shooting in America because this movement is going to be at the forefront and we need change.”

LISTEN: full interview with John Barnitt on The News with Richard Cloutier and Julie Buckingham

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Julie Buckingham is co-host of  The News with Richard Cloutier and Julie Buckingham, which airs weekdays from 4 – 7 p.m. on 680 CJOB.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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