Parkland shooting survivors share advice with returning Santa Fe students

It has been surreal for Christy Ma and Nikhita Nookala, seeing their high school and small, suburban town plastered in headlines throughout the U.S. On Feb. 14, seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. 

"Parkland is very small town and it's a well-off school and it's a really good neighborhood, so you'd never expect something like that to happen there," said Ma. "I mean I still think about it almost every day."

"We were in newspaper actually, during that period," added Ma. "Nikhita ended up getting stuck in another classroom, but I ran back into the newspaper room and we hid in the closet."

In the weeks and months that followed, Ma, Nookala and dozens of their classmates became the focal point of student activism, flying up to Washington, D.C. to lead roughly 800,000 people in the March for Our Lives where they were demanding that legislators adopt stricter gun control laws. 

"It was just very surreal and very, like, overwhelming because when we looked out from the stage, on to the crowd, you couldn't see the end of it," said Nookala. "And that was the amount of support that students from Douglas and from around the country who had experienced gun violence were getting."

The teens desperately searched for some sense of normalcy when they went back to school, but with tighter security in place, including clear backpacks and single-point entrances, normalcy is no longer an option.  

"It's an important step to move past it or move forward, and accepting that this happened. But we're going to persevere and get through it," said Nookala.

As for the students at Santa Fe High School, who return to campus on Aug. 20, Ma and Nookala said they hope students ask for help if they need it, and know that Parkland students stand with them.  

"Often times, we would be a little too scared, too nervous to talk about it with other people because we might think that other people have moved on or don't want to be reminded of the past, but I think seeking help and getting a counselor to talk to is very helpful," said Ma.

Both girls will be freshman students at the University of Florida during the fall. They are moving in next week and will be suite mates.

Ma aspires to become a nurse and Nookala plans on going to medical school. They are both the keynote speakers at the Asian-American Journalists Association Convention happening in downtown Houston between Aug. 8 and 11. They'll be leading a panel at Saturday night's Gala and Scholarship Banquet.