Irish parents in Florida: ‘Is my quest to live in paradise a danger to my family?’


Seventeen people were shot dead at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday afternoon.

Irish parents living in the state have been sharing their reaction to the shooting with Irish Times Abroad.

Yvonne Geraghty: ‘No school is safe’

We wake up to hear this kind of news so frequently, but this time it happened less than 15 miles from our home, in a neighbourhood considered affluent, which lulls us into a false sense of security. That wouldn’t happen in MY child’s school, we fool ourselves. But no school is safe. I didn’t sleep a wink last night. When incidents like this happen, you really start to question your decision to leave home. Yes, we have many opportunities here and my life is easier in many ways. Lately, I am not so sure. I can’t begin to imagine the pain and suffering those families are experiencing.

As a nurse, I have come to appreciate that when we say our routine “goodbye and I love you” in the morning, we never know if it’s the last time. We are all just a phone call away from bad news. Car crashes. School bus crashes. Random acts of road rage. Now school shootings. I know I hugged my children extra tight this morning before school.

Honestly, my gut reaction yesterday when I heard this news? Go home. Back to Ireland.

Yvonne Geraghty: ‘Honestly, my gut reaction yesterday when I heard this news? Go home. Back to Ireland.’
Yvonne Geraghty: ‘Honestly, my gut reaction yesterday when I heard this news? Go home. Back to Ireland.’

Nadia Ramoutar: ‘I know what it feels like to not know if your child is alive during a shooting’

Growing up in Dublin, my greatest concern in secondary school on Valentine’s Day was getting a card from the boy I fancied and was too shy to approach. Watching the news yesterday my heart broke with grief seeing a Florida High School near where I live shattered by gun shots. I felt shock, followed by anger and helplessness. But the worst is the grief: Those children died in a moment of horror and their friends watched them die.

As a survivor of a violent attack by a stranger at a Florida University when I was 19 and new to America, I know how that moment of terror feels. That inescapable injustice of an ambush from an insane and angry spirit determined to destroy random people is irreversible for those who live as well as those who are murdered. I know what it feels like to face horror, but I was fortunate to live. These children didn’t get that chance.

As a mother, I also know what it feels like to watch and not know if your child is alive during a shooting. It is the worst fear a parent can face. In my oldest son’s first year away from home at Florida State University, he called me one night and told me that there was “a shooter loose” on campus. I told him to lock the door to his dorm. I turned on the TV and saw footage of the shooter actively shooting at my son’s library where he had just been. My son missed being shot by moments. He was terrified, but wanted to leave the room to find his friends. I begged him not to leave. I stayed calm but inside I was frozen in terror. My son was fortunate he lived, when others died.

The scene outside the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following the mass shooting on Wednesday. Photograph: Christobal Herrera/EPA
The scene outside the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following the mass shooting on Wednesday. Photograph: Christobal Herrera/EPA

My youngest son is on the autism spectrum so the thought of him being in an incident like this brings me to tears i and makes me want to home-school him. He had to go through drills of hiding under desks in case a “bad man” tries to kill him and his friends. We used to do fire drills in school, but now we have to do “murder drills”?

This is the 284th school shooting in America since 2013, the 18th since the beginning of this year. How many innocent children and teachers must die before people wake up? Is this my wake up call to gather my family and go home? Regardless of real estate prices and shortages or challenges in establishing a career there when I have been gone so long, is the question much greater: Can I live where human life is so disposable and my sons are sitting targets?

Enough is enough. Now, to address what that means: run for office, or run for the airport, but also express gratitude that I was one of the fortunate ones, I ran for my life and I lived. So many thousands of others have not. My deepest sympathy goes to all those grieving today and for the years of PTSD that will follow.

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Paula O’Connell: ‘This is our home now for better or worse’

My son is a grown man of 20. This morning he said “I feel nervous going to college today”. I felt his anxiety too, dropping my almost 17-year-old daughter to school. My daughter and I chatted on route to school, she told me how they had practiced a lockdown less than a month ago and how they had cracked up laughing because the last girl in to the designated “safe” area had forgotten to lock the door. It doesn’t seem so funny today. Do I fear for the safety of my children in school? Absolutely. But will the shock wear off? Yes, and we will go about our daily business. That is the problem.

We chose to emigrate to this beautiful state, so while we may never understand the horror of kids with guns, this is our home now for better or worse.

Students are comforted by parents and family after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Photograph: Georgio Viera/EPA
Students are comforted by parents and family after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Photograph: Georgio Viera/EPA

Dave Kilroy: ‘Her daughter had texted from school saying there had been a shooting’

I live in Broward County, about 20 minutes by car from Stoneman Douglas High School. I have three kids, one in high school, one in middle, and one in college. None of my kids go to Stoneman but several friends from their Irish dance classes go there.

I heard about the shooting before it broke in the media. I arrived home from lunch and my wife told me she had received a text from one of the dance moms that her daughter had texted her from school saying there had been a shooting, and she was holding the hand of a young girl who she believed was dying. A flurry of frantic texts went back and forth among the dance group. We were following events unfold on the television as heavily armed police moved in on the school.

Thankfully we received word that the girls we know in the school were all unharmed but it quickly emerged that they had witnessed some horrific scenes.

As a parent raising children in the US I am angry today. My kids have been on lockdown before in their schools and they routinely go through “active shooter” and bomb threat drills. It makes me so angry when I think of the lack of political will to address the issue of guns in this state, and the country at large.

The shooter yesterday was 19, and by all accounts he had a long, documented history of mental illness. In Florida you only have to be 18 to walk into a retail outlet and but a gun. It doesn’t have to be a dedicated gun store – you can buy these things at Wal Mart. Meanwhile Florida ranks last among all the states in the union in terms of mental health funding.

The general legislative direction of this state and the country at large over the last two decades has been to be increase access to guns rather to restrict then. Yesterday’s shooting is sadly a tragedy of the US’s own making and every one of us who lives here has to daily come to terms with the prospect that we could be directly impacted by the next mass shooting. That won’t change until the weapons fetish that is at the heart of the gun culture here is addressed.

Stephen Melvin: ‘Is my quest to live in paradise a danger to my family?’

Yesterday was a dark day here in Florida as lives and innocence were extinguished in a matter of minutes just a few hours’ drive north of us. I first saw the reports on CNN after I took our three kids, aged 3 to 7, home from school.

After they arrested that troubled young man, I turned off the telly and asked my sons what their school plan for a lockdown was. It scared them and me just talking about it, but I felt they were ill prepared and proper organised plan was not practiced and in place. This will change now I’m sure.

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It wasn’t until I called my Ma who now lives in Kerry that I found out the extent of the carnage. Leaving them off at school this morning, I stuck around longer than I normally do, filled with anguish anxiety and self doubt. Is my quest to live in paradise a danger to my family?

My dearly departed father, Joseph Melvin told me days before his passing that the best thing he ever did in his life was keeping us all safe; I have eight siblings.

The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms but it’s the NRA that takes away any common sense applied to this part of the constitution. It is prohibited for those with mental health issues to be asked if they are a gun owner, or questioned about purchasing excessive ammunition. Across the road from my kids’ school is a fishing tackle shop, in the showcase there is every handgun you can imagine, one even has a silencer on it. Freedom I suppose, but for who?

Ruth Kavanagh: ‘I have lived in Naples, Florida for more than 20 years. We have two boys. As the tragedy unfolded and the number of fatalities came to light, I got angrier. I will never understand the American obsession with firearms but I do respect their right to own guns. But there is no place in a peaceful society for assault weapons, the type they use in war zones.’
Ruth Kavanagh: ‘I have lived in Naples, Florida for more than 20 years. We have two boys. As the tragedy unfolded and the number of fatalities came to light, I got angrier. I will never understand the American obsession with firearms but I do respect their right to own guns. But there is no place in a peaceful society for assault weapons, the type they use in war zones.’

Mary Foley: ‘Semi automatic weapons have no place in our society’

I have a niece and nephew in school just miles from where this shooting occurred. It is horrific. My heart stopped when I first heard there was a shooting in Broward County. I did not know if it was Kaleigh and Dylan’s school. I texted my brother to find out thankfully it wasn’t. Thankful yet horrified for the families affected.

Here we are once again in the face of yet another mass shooting and yet again nothing will change because the administration and Republican members of government are backed and funded by the NRA. They use scare tactics to turn public opinion against immigrants, and it is US born citizens that continue to kill men, women and children with semi automatic weapons that have no place in our society unless you are military in a war zone.

Royston Brady: ‘It’s our worst nightmare as parents’

We live about 30 minutes from the high school where the shootings took place. I found out while at work from some of the team here who have friends with teenagers attending the school. It’s our worst nightmare as parents when something like this happens in the US, but for it to happen so close to where we live, that puts it in a different league completely.

We have three kids, Ethan (11), Pia (9), and Lilyrose (7). Ethan was well aware yesterday of what was unfolding. We tried to keep the two girls away from the TV when the news was on, and turned off the radio in the car.

On a day when all the kids in the neighbourhood started their morning boarding the yellow public school buses excited about exchanging Valentines cards and gifts with their friends and teachers, to a very sombre and sad evening when they returned.

The fear of something like this is always in the background, only last week Michele my wife, started calling and texting me franticly. We had just had lunch together and I was heading back to work. She was driving back to the house, but on her way the traffic was all slowed down as it passed the elementary school where our girls go. As she got nearer the school, the car park was full of police and ambulances. First responders were leading the kids out to safety as the fire alarm had gone off.

Michele was frozen with fear as she had immediately thought it might be a shooting. That is what our initial reaction is. Weston, where we live, was just awarded second safest city in Florida (8th in the US) in an annual study, and Parkland/Coral Springs where yesterday’s massacre happened was ranked number one. These are affluent areas of Florida where nobody would expect this to happen, but it did.

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We moved here a short time before the Sandy Hook tragedy took place, where 26 kids and teachers lost their lives school just weeks before Christmas. Over the last five years the slaughter of innocent young and not so young continues, and there doesn’t seem to be the political will to do anything to change that. We like living here, our friends are here, and our livelihood is here. We get to live in peace and quiet in our neighbourhood, and I pray every day that remains the case for our family.

Deirdre Irwin: ‘This could happen at my son’s school’

Unexpected gasps of sorrow have been escaping from me since hearing about the shooting. After a busy work day I sat down in my commuter bus and a co-worker asked if I had heard about the school shootings. North of Miami, high school, several dead, shooter was a student they think. I felt a tangle of emotions, before total relief that it was not my son’s high school in St John’s County. It was in Broward County, where my good friend Robert works.

I turned on the radio to hear sobbing parents being interviewed and the tears started. I called my 17-year-old needing to hear his voice. This could happen at my son’s school. Creekside is a large suburban school with 2,400 students and very engaged parents. I am still alarmed when I visit to see armed police in combat attire with drug and gun sniffing dogs wandering through campus, or walking by the student cars. It reminds me of attending college in Northern Ireland in the 1980s.

They have drills for tornados and for shootings and in his calm confident way, my son is sure he could hide if necessary. We have discussed various plans if it happens, playing dead being one of them.

Ronan’s older sister graduated from Florida State University last year and was in the library two hours before a shooter ran in and shot students exactly where she had been sitting. His older brother attends a university in Alabama where there was a shooting several years ago. This is never far from my mind. Ronan got several somewhat unwelcome hugs from me; I am glad he is alive and feel guilty in a weird way for that.

In the shower this morning a cried again thinking of those 17 families greeting the day without their loved ones. I can and I can’t imagine. I abhor guns and the political machine around the gun industry in this country. Nothing will change. People will continue to share praying hands emojis, talk about mental health, and in this case, the governor will step up to pay for funerals and counselling as if it were natural disaster. It is an unnatural disaster in this country.

Eimear Towler: ‘I held my own kids extra close when I dropped them off at school’

I am both a parent and a high school teacher in Tampa, Florida. I heard about the tragedy through Facebook just as I was finishing up my day. At first my reaction was, “Not again”. As the day wore on, it felt closer to home. This could be my school, my kids, my colleagues and my friends. Why is this normal? Why do teenagers have access to such powerful weapons?

As a teacher in a Catholic school I will offer a prayer at the beginning of every class. I will let them talk and express concerns. But thoughts and prayers are not adequate. Law makers need to push to change why this happens. The reasons are more complex than just gun control. We practice lockdowns. In fact we had a drill a few weeks ago. I also reported what I perceived as a security vulnerability to administration this morning.

I have talked to my kids about reporting things they see at school that is off, and letting teachers know about students acting strange. My kids’ schools practice lockdowns. I held my own kids extra close when I dropped them off at school this morning, and I look upon my kids at school with a new deeper appreciation.



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