Shay Makinde blames himself.
Trying his best to outrun an older kid with a semi-automatic rifle through the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Makinde was able to save two of his classmates by pushing them into a classroom.
He has been lauded as a hero among his peers for demonstrating the awareness and bravery to help others before himself, but his best efforts couldn’t save his best friend, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver.
“As soon as we heard gun shots, we all tried to help each other,” said Makinde, a 16-year-old junior at the Parkland high school. “They got him right through the head before I could get him. And I honestly blame myself. Everybody’s telling me not to, but if it wasn’t for me, he’d still be here with us.”
Digging his head into the shoulder of 17-year-old junior Brandon Dasent, Makinde fought back tears.
During the first gathering of Stoneman Douglas students one day after the worst high school shooting in U.S. history, he was far from alone. Of the more than 1,000 students, teachers and staff who came together for about four hours at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, many cried tears of sadness and anger, and of absolute shock.
At 2:35 p.m., precisely 24 hours after a former student at the school killed 17 and injured more than a dozen during a rampage for which police have yet to find a motive, the student body held a moment of silent for the dead. Among them: the school’s athletic director, assistant football coach and security guard, a teacher — and Makinde’s friend Guac.
Makinde said he was inside the second classroom that suspected gunman Nikolas Cruz “shot up.” After hearing a fire alarm, which he says Cruz pulled, half of Makinde’s class ran away while the others walked, unaware of what was taking place.
“I remember everybody running in a different direction,” he said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
Across a vast grass field and underneath an unrelenting sun, friends shared stories of survival and students thanked teachers and their fellow students for helping guide them to safety.
Some students hugged tightly and for minutes straight. Others cried for what seemed like an eternity. And some approached a stage at the corner of the field, laying flowers and lighting candles, and praying to their God.
And up there, on stage, 17 life-sized angels stood lifeless. Mourners streamed through the field and passed a gaggle of camera-wielding reporters to kneel and bow their heads a few meters from the mannequins’ feet.
Dasent said the shooting, as gut-wrenchingly awful as it was, brought his school together for a reason, maybe God’s reason. Before the shooting, he said he had “beef” with several classmates.
But now, who cares? They’re “brothers and sisters.”
“It sucks that’s what needed to happen in order for us to get together finally,” he said. “But you know we’re here now, we’re just supporting each other.”