School Shooting Survivors Are Making Their Voices Heard — Through Lipstick

We are less than halfway through 2018, and the United States has already seen 23 school shootings that resulted in at least one person — other than the gunman — being injured or shot dead. In the two-and-a-half months since three adults and 14 students were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, another 15 people have lost their lives on school grounds.

In the aftermath of these tragedies, it's the kids who have taken it upon themselves to fight back, not with weapons, but with words: on Twitter, on live TV, on posters held high above their heads during the March for Our Lives. These are the faces of school shootings, of what happens when laws don't protect America's children from being murdered in the middle of history class. Today, alongside other survivors of mass shootings from Pulse Nightclub to the Washington Navy Yard, they're wearing orange lipstick.


"They say it's important to put your money where your mouth is, and this is perhaps the best and most notable example of that," says Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit that has advocated tirelessly for gun-control laws for over 40 years. Today, the organization has joined forces with The Lipstick Lobby for what Brown calls their most "loud and proud" effort yet.

Every single dollar of the net proceeds from the sale of Fired Up ($19), a bright orange shade (and the color of gun violence awareness), goes straight to the Brady Campaign, where the money will be used to help fund on-the-ground initiatives by one of the oldest, longest-standing gun-reform organizations in the country. Davida Hall, founder of The Lipstick Lobby, says that the brand shouldn't be confused with other beauty companies that donate to charity. "We don't really consider ourselves a 'beauty brand,'" she says. "We're a social justice brand, and yes, we make lipstick, but it's all about the proceeds, and where that money goes. That's what we want to feel front and center of these campaigns: the issues, the people, the stories."

For the survivors, the Fired Up campaign provides another platform to raise their voices. The pictures are powerful, the importance of raising awareness immeasurable. "It is incredibly important that the American public see and hear from survivors and that they are given a platform to tell their stories, so that we never forget the need to make real and lasting change," Brown says.

Of course, the mission to make real and lasting change doesn't end with a lipstick, or any amount of money, for that matter. The most impactful message comes in the form of a vote. "You have to vote to get the gun control. There's no other way," says Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Maddie Gaffney. "You'll know when you get there what you're going to vote for," adds her mother, Michelle. "Just vote."

Photo: Courtesy of Danielle St Laurent/The Lipstick Lobby.
Dylan Kraemer; Parkland, FL.

Dylan Kraemer, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, was sitting in history class on Valentine’s Day when bullets pierced the room. The first thing he did was call the police. Then, he texted his parents. “I said to my mom, ‘There’s a shooting in my school. If something happens, I love you,’” he recalls. “I’m lucky I got to text her. Two kids who were right next to me didn’t make it.”

Even after Dylan’s class was escorted out of the building by the SWAT team, police had yet to find the shooter, and the scene was still considered active. He fled to a nearby gated community, where his parents and younger sister Michaela (pictured here) picked him up. “That hug was the hardest hug I've gotten in my whole life,” his mother, Allison Kraemer, says. For a full week after the shooting, Dylan says, he was in shock. “I couldn’t really move or do anything,” he says. “I didn’t talk. I was completely silent. I didn’t eat for a couple of days.”

Since Dylan and his classmates returned to school, the increased security measures have been intense. Cops are stationed at each entrance; students must carry their school IDs on them at all times. And then there are the clear backpacks, which Dylan says are “kind of annoying.” But he also says that he feels hopeful in the aftermath of the shooting, as he and his fellow MSD students face off against politicians in the fight for gun reform. “I wasn’t surprised to see my classmates speak up, and be stirred into political action,” he says. “I know those kids, and those are just the types of people they are.”
Photo: Courtesy of Danielle St Laurent/The Lipstick Lobby.
Allison Kraemer; Parkland, FL.

“My husband was about to leave for a business meeting, and he was coming down the stairs and said, ‘Oh, I just got a text from Dylan that says I love you.’ It was Valentine’s Day, so it didn’t seem that unusual,” Allison Kraemer, Parkland resident and mother of Dylan and Michaela, recalls. “That’s when I opened up my phone, and saw that I got one, too. It was 2:38, and his text had come in at 2:36. And I just gasped. The panic — it was horrible.”

In the weeks after the shooting, the Kraemer family invited Brown to speak at their home. “You go through life and you think there are background checks for guns, and you’re not necessarily as informed as you should be,” Allison says. “Some of the things that she was saying just floored me, and all of the kids that were in the room. There was just so much information that I was unaware of. We became really passionate about helping them.”

Like others who are involved with the Brady Campaign, Allison emphasizes the distinction between revoking First Amendment rights and pushing for common-sense gun laws, which the campaign is vocal about. “It’s doable gun laws,” she says. “Having backgrounds checks, waiting periods, not being able to buy them online without being vetted — it boggles the mind that we can't get this done.”

Part of that is also encouraging responsible gun ownership, including keeping firearms locked up and out of reach from children. “Nobody wants their kid to go on a playdate and have a gun available to them,” Allison says. “It just makes no sense.”
Photo: Courtesy of Kate Powers/The Lipstick Lobby.
April & Evelyn Schentrup; Parkland, FL.

Carmen Schentrup was one of the 17 people murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on February 14, a week before her 17th birthday. “Every day, there is a blend of feelings,” Carmen’s mother, April, says. “The most prominent feeling is just emptiness, sadness. But within that, anger.”

Anger, she says, that the tragedy could have been prevented; that the sheriff’s office and the armed officer stationed at the school didn’t do anything to help; that the FBI didn’t follow up on any leads they were given regarding the gunman; that the safety and security of the students was not taken more seriously, not just for Carmen, who lost her life, but also her younger daughter, Evelyn, who made it out of the school unharmed.

“There are just so many failures that day that make me angry to think of,” April, an elementary-school principal and community leader, says. “And so does the fact that we had a law in our country that banned assault weapons, assault rifles, and limited high-capacity magazines, and that law was allowed to lapse due to politicians wanting to be inactive and taking what they thought was maybe the easy way out.”

To honor Carmen’s memory, the Schentrups have established a fundraising effort called Carmen’s Fund to support advocacy and outreach for common-sense gun reform. Her entire family has been moved to action, with her father, Phil, her brother, Robert, and April all speaking out publicly at several different forums. As April puts it, she never really had a choice. “I’ve always been a strong woman in regards to being a leader,” she says. “I’ve always been a person who tries to do and say what I feel is right. Not doing something is just not in my vocabulary.”

April wants people to remember Carmen not just as a dreamer, but as someone who was dedicated to those dreams, who worked hard to accomplish the things she wanted to do. “I want people to remember that dreams can become a reality,” she says. “It doesn't come easy, but with hard work, perseverance, and dedication, they can be achievable.”
Photo: Courtesy of Kate Powers/The Lipstick Lobby.
Aalayah Eastmond; Parkland, FL.

Aalayah Eastmond, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was learning about the Holocaust in her history class in room 1214 when the shooting started. She had never heard gunshots before, so she was disoriented at first, and didn't know what to do.

"I went into the wrong corner of the class and I was in complete view of [the shooter],” Aalayah says. She moved behind one of her classmates, who was shot and killed. “When he passed away, I just went underneath his body and laid there until he finished shooting. Afterwards, he got heavy, so I moved his body off me and I rested his head on his arm, so it wouldn’t be on the cold floor. Then I went behind the cabinet and waited there until help came.”

Aalayah’s unfathomable experience that day spurred her immediately into action. “It still feels unreal,” she says. “I can't believe that a shooter at my school was able, at the age of 19, to get an AR-15, and that people are still able to get them, and go to the Waffle House and do the same thing. It shocks me, but that's why we're here, to stop it, to change it.”

But the tragedy at MSD isn’t the only reason why Aalayah has felt motivated to actively push for smarter, tougher gun-control laws. She says that, while her involvement in a school shooting has given her a platform to get her voice out, she wants people to see the bigger picture of the fight against gun violence. “Nightclubs, fast-food restaurants, concerts, in the streets every day in urban communities,” she says. “Shootings happen everywhere — not just in schools.”
Photo: Courtesy of Kate Powers/The Lipstick Lobby.
Maddie Gaffney; Parkland, FL.

When the fire alarm went off for the second time on February 14, Marjory Stoneman Douglas junior Maddie Gaffney left the building with the rest of her yearbook class, following their usual fire-drill protocol. They heard the gunshots, but they thought they were firecrackers. “We thought it was all just a drill, so we were kind of laughing, joking around. But then everyone just started running,” she says. “We tried to go back to our classroom, but our door was locked and we were freaking out, and that’s when we heard more gunshots.”

A coach pulled Maddie and her friends into another classroom, where they remained for about three hours before the SWAT team came and took them all out. “We still didn’t know where the shooter was,” she says. “He could have gone anywhere.” Later that afternoon, she went to church with her dad. She doesn’t remember what happened in between, just that she texted her mom to say that she loved her and that she was safe.

Maddie also texted her friend Christa, who wasn’t at school that day. And Christa texted her back a picture of the news on TV, which is when Maddie first realized it wasn’t fireworks that they all were hearing. Her mom, her dad, and her brother were also texting her, all begging for a response, when she lost service for 45 minutes because everybody was using their phones at once — calling, texting, tweeting, documenting live on Snapchat the horror unfolding around them.

Social media and constant connectedness play instrumental roles in how MSD students seek to bring about change. “With Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, that’s the way for us to really get our voices out without having to appear on TV or something. We’re the first group of survivors who can speak out like this with social media,” Maddie says. “Emma González, who’s been leading the March For Our Lives movement, she has 1.6 million followers on Twitter. People look up to her. People see things and retweet them, and they just blow up.”
Photo: Courtesy of Danielle St Laurent/The Lipstick Lobby.
Michelle Gaffney; Parkland, FL.

By the time Michelle Gaffney found out there had been a shooting, she already knew that her daughter Maddie had gotten out of the school safely. “I got my stuff together and I went home [from work], and my husband was home and I knew that he was going to go pick Maddie up when the time came,” she says. “I called my best friend Gena, and she said that there were people who saw her son Luke down. I went to her house, and we started going to hospitals looking for him.”

Luke Hoyer, 15, was one of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. His mother Gena, Michelle says, is grieving. “She has her moments, but she doesn’t like to be in crowds,” she says. “She doesn’t want to get on a grandstand, so she’s been calling senators, and she’s trying to figure out how to go about this. Her and her husband — they’re thinking about how they’re going to be fighting the fight with this.”

In the meantime, Michelle says that she’s hopeful for the future, and for the change the kids she’s watched grow up can affect. “I know my little town, I know these kids, I know their parents, I know how they’ve always been,” she says. “We’re Parkland, and we’re coming. I don't know what it is, but whatever this light that got sparked… This is going to be an awakening, because I don’t think that people have seen the likes of us.”
Photo: Courtesy of Danielle St Laurent/The Lipstick Lobby.
Heather Egeland Martin; Columbine, CO.

Heather Egeland Martin was finishing up her senior year at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, when two students shot and killed 13 people and injured 21 others. She didn’t return to the school until 10 years later, when then-Principal Frank DeAngelis invited the graduating class of ‘99 to reconnect.

After a decade of feeling unmoored, dropping out of college, using drugs, and working on and off in the restaurant business, Heather says that the reunion sparked something in her. “Instead of being afraid and just reliving that day, it was very hopeful. I wasn’t scared in the space, I got to see old friends, and that was a milestone in my healing,” she says. “From there, I just thought, you know what? I need to go back to school.”

Heather has since become a high-school English teacher, a career path she believes she was always meant to take. “I love my job, and I love my students,” she says. “I tell them my story every year. Not only do they then take lockdown drills seriously, but it also creates a bond. Some of my students have been through things that I can’t imagine. They’re from civil war-ridden countries, so they’ve experienced trauma, too. Trauma is part of the human experience, so it kind of helps us connect on that deeper level.” That’s also why Heather founded The Rebels Project, a network and support group for survivors of mass trauma.

“We didn’t have access to other shooting survivors in 1999. Other shootings had happened, but not to the same extent that they’re happening now,” she says. “Now we’re able to do outreach and connect with other survivors, connect them with each other, and offer a platform for survivors to talk, share their stories, and more than anything, offer hope and advice.”
Load more...