PARKLAND, Fla. – “I kept thinking to myself, 'This is something in a movie. This isn’t real. This can’t be happening right now.' The walls were literally vibrating. It felt like the entire room, the ground, everything was shaking.”
Those are the words of Catie Krakow.
On the afternoon of Valentine’s Day in 2018, Krakow, along with a group of other students, was sitting in a classroom in Building 12 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, finishing up projects on a computer. Krakow was a senior and just months away from graduation.
“At first, we thought it might have been, like, a door slamming outside or something like that,” she said. “And then all of a sudden, we started hearing more and more.”
At 2:21 p.m., police said 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Building 12, and armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, went from classroom to classroom spraying bullets on faculty, staff and students.
Investigators estimate Cruz fired more than 100 rounds in five minutes and 32 seconds of shooting on each of the building’s three floors. Seventeen people were killed and 17 others were injured. Cruz had withdrawn from Stoneman Douglas in February 2017 because of failing grades.
“I thought it was a drill all the way up until he started shooting into our class,” Krakow said. “We kept getting a ‘heads up’ that there is going be a SWAT team to come in and shoot blanks in our school for a drill. So that’s what I thought it was.”
Krakow was on the first floor in Room 1214 and looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend. A day that began with such hope and promise would end with tragedy and tears.
“At first I was like, ‘Wow -- I can’t believe they’re really going all out with this drill.’ And then all of a sudden there was so much smoke in the air,” she said. “This doesn’t look right to me and there’s this horrible smell and you know everybody was screaming because we didn’t know what was going on.”
Authorities said Cruz shot into Room 1214 killing Helena Ramsay and Nick Dworet. Room 1214, in fact, became the deadliest site of Cruz’s rampage; aside from Ramsay and Dworet being killed, four other students were injured. Authorities concluded Cruz did a majority of his killing on the first floor of the building: 11 people died from bullets from the AR-15 and 13 others were injured.
Krakow credits fellow student Rebecca Bogart with saving her life.
“When everybody kind of ran to the wall I was the only one who was kind of just standing there because I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I just froze and she grabbed my hand. It was like ‘Come on let’s go!’ and then she grabbed me and pulled me under the desk.”
Krakow said Cruz got to Room 1214 about 30 to 40 seconds later and opened fire.
Coming face-to-face with the shooter
Kaitlyn Jesinowsky is an impressive college freshman in her first year at the University of Central Florida. She is smart, ambitious and athletic. On Feb. 14, 2018, she was also in Room 1214.
“They were handing out carnations for Valentine’s Day,” Jesinowsky said. “When I got to fourth period, (that’s) the last thing I remember.”
Like Krakow, Jesinowsky said the beginning of Cruz’s massacre was startling and caught them all off-guard.
“The shots came. The first set -- we all kind of looked at each other like, ‘Wow,’ like, in a panic,” she said. “And then everyone dove and separated into different corners.”
That simple act and quick thinking probably saved Jesinowsky’s life.
“I ran to the corner diagonal from the door, which there is a computer cart there,” she said. “Three of us ended up getting behind the computer cart and as soon as we got down there, the shots came through our door. The next thing you know I look up and Helena and Nick are right in front of me. And the first thing I do is grab Helena’s hand and I try to check her pulse and I couldn’t find anything”
Despite knowing deep down the painful truth of what had just happened, Jesinowsky tried to comfort her friend.
“She was leaning against the wall,” Jesinowsky said. “So I grabbed her hand and I was telling her it was going to be OK. I was stroking her hair and everything.”
She held on to hope until the very end.
“I had to keep checking just in case. But when this SWAT guy came in and checked her, he shook his head no. My stomach dropped,” Jesinowsky said.
The mental scars
Though neither were physically injured, both Jesinowsky and Krakow bear the emotional and mental effects of what happened that day.
“Everywhere I go I have to… have a plan in mind,” Jesinowsky said. "It’s kind of just like an automatic thing. I just look around.”
Krakow said she'll never be able to forget what happened that day. Sometimes, she experiences flashbacks where she sees the alleged shooter's face.
“My life has pretty much like revolved around this since it happened so I’m so consumed with it with all my feelings and emotions and trauma that I face. I really don’t think it’ll ever fully go away,” Krakow said.
The Parkland shooting changed the lives of these two students and hundreds more who were also on campus that day. Jesinowsky has a new outlook on her future while memories of that tragic day continue to haunt Krakow.
“Emotionally, I feel like I see life on a more positive aspect,” Jesinowsky said. “I try to spread love and see everything more positively. I’m also not afraid of as many things as I was before. I think if I can get through that, then I can get through most things.”
Krakow said she hopes people will reflect on what happened and be reminded of the importance of reporting suspicious behavior.
“I really hope that people really remember on February 14th -- I hope they really remember the victims and not think about the horrible tragedy that happened,” Krakow said.