When Tragedy Strikes Home While You’re Miles Away

What began as a dreary Valentine’s Day to those residing in State College, ended as a living nightmare to those who are Florida natives.

An all-to-familiar alert was sent out nationwide around 3 p.m. on Feb. 14, stating, “S.O.S alert: active shooter inside school at Parkland, Fla.”

An average Penn State student or State College resident may see an alert like this and be taken aback, wondering how situations like these happen as often as they do. They may even feel a sense of relief, knowing the location of the incident is miles and miles away from home.

For students like Steph Levine, a sophomore film studies major at Penn State, a mix of adrenaline and helplessness kicks in.

Levine resides in Boca Raton, Florida, only a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the one the deadliest mass shootings recently took place.

Find out how Levine has coped with this recent tragedy that struck close to home while she was in State College- way far from home.

VALLEY: How have you felt at school since the tragedy that struck Parkland?

Steph Levine: Since Feb. 14, 2018, I haven’t been able to sleep right. Being that I live 20 minutes away from Stoneman Douglas High School, it’s been a weird few weeks of emotions and thoughts. Just this past week there was an apparent bomb threat here that caused the HUB and Forum Building to be evacuated. My entire body was shaking. I had seen the man they were looking for and afterwards I had to speak to the police. My mind was immediately taken back to my hometown and the ones that lost their lives. It was just a threat, and everything was fine, but I couldn’t help but think of everyone in Parkland. I feel uneasy in my classrooms and as though I always have to be on my toes. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

V: Being that Boca Raton is only miles away from Parkland, how did receiving the news of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting differ from receiving news of any other mass shooting?

SL: Any time I hear news of a mass shooting, it strikes me to the core. I can’t believe how frequently it happens and how nothing’s been done even after countless lives are lost due to these horrific acts. This time it was very different. I was sitting in class when I received a snapchat from my high school friends and all it said was, “shooting at Douglas.” I didn’t know what to think. I immediately googled it, thinking there was no way it could be real, but it was. Class had ended and I ran home to turn on the news. I sat in front of the television and I cried. I felt helpless. I played on my high school basketball team for four years and played Douglas twice a season each year. I was watching the news covering kids who were running to safety with their hands over their heads and I had walked those grounds plenty of times before. It didn’t feel real. It’s very different when it hits home. It’s an unexplainable feeling.

V: State College is significantly far from your hometown … what did it feel like knowing something to this magnitude was happening while you were at school?

SL: Being in State College while all of this was taking place felt a little wrong. I didn’t know what to think or do but I knew I wanted to be home. I wanted to stand besides members of my community and use my voice to stand up for those who cannot anymore. No one should ever bare the weight of a gun. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. My heart ached and my stomach turned. All I wanted was to do something, anything at all, but I knew there was nothing I could do.

V: Many students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are standing up for stricter gun laws and safer schools, did you see this motivation for change firsthand once you were able to return home?

SL: I was able to return home the weekend after the shooting. While I drove past the high school I attended in Boca Raton, there were signs everywhere that said “We Stand With Douglas” and “End Gun Violence.” That was all I saw firsthand. I’ve been watching news coverage, and I have been following everything that Emma González has been saying and doing. It felt different going home this time, maybe it was all in my head but it felt like there was some sort of quietness lingering in the air. Our community is powerful though, and I am confident we will be heard.

V: Do you have any thoughts or views that you would like to share on the incident?

SL: I don’t even know where to begin. All I’ll say is to watch Emma González’s speech on CNN at the rally to end gun violence. Something needs to change. The Second Amendment was written in a time where African Americans only counted as three-fifths of a person. It was also written in a time that guns were nothing compared to what they are now. This may be a matter of mental illness or better background checks, but there should be no reason that anyone can get their hands on an automatic weapon. I have been unable to sleep because I have been doing so much research on what can be done and why this happens. My best advice to every young adult reading this: educate yourself. Learn about this. It’s important. On March 24 in Washington D.C., there will be a march held called the “March For Our Lives.” I will attend, and walk besides the millions of people that will be there to end this. I don’t want to see another headline about this again. There cannot be anymore lives lost because of acts like these. It’s time to change. Adults will hear us now and our generations will shape the future generations to come. Be a part of history and get with it. We are all in this together, now let’s use our voices for the ones that have lost theirs.

VALLEY thanks Levine for her candid, honest and very personal responses. For more information on the march being held on March 24 and how you can push for change, visit https://www.marchforourlives.com/.

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