One of the students who survived last week’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school has called out US President Donald Trump over his ties to the powerful National Rifle Association.
Emma Gonzalez, a year 10 student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, delivered an impassioned speech in front of thousands at an emotionally charged rally in Florida.
Ms Gonzalez began her speech with a moment of silence for the 17 victims, familiar faces to many at the rally, who did not return home from school on Wednesday.
“Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving,” Ms Gonzalez said, fighting back tears.
“But instead we are up here standing together because if all our Government and President can do is send ‘thoughts and prayers’, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”
Flanked by mourning teachers, parents and students, Ms Gonzalez spoke from the steps of the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale to raucous applause from the crowd.
A 19-year-old former student, Nikolas Cruz, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He carried out the rampage armed with a legally obtained AR-15 rifle which he wielded with expertise gained as a graduate of “gun education”courses sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
Ms Gonzalez’s speech called for tighter gun regulations and refuted a suggestion from Mr Trump that greater action from the community might have prevented the massacre.
“Neighbours and classmates knew he [Mr Cruz] was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities again and again,” Mr Trump tweeted.
“We did [report it]. Time and time again. Since he was in middle school, it was no surprise to anyone who knew him to hear that he was the shooter,” Ms Gonzalez said, just one day after the FBI admitted it failed to act on a tip off about Mr Cruz.
Mr Cruz had been diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder that often leads to social awkwardness and isolation, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue. He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife,” she shouted.
“How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter’s fault?”
Protesters held placards reading “Enough is enough!” and chanted “no more guns”.
“If the President wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” she said.
“To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA — shame on you.”
As she wiped tears from her face, the audience echoed her call, chanting: “Shame on you”.
Ms Gonzalez urged the Government to take action and listen to the demands of people directly affected by gun violence.
“The people in the Government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice,” she yelled.
“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate, seated funded by the NRA, telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS.
“They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS.
“They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS.
“That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the Government works. We call BS.”
Senior student David Hogg said Wednesday’s mass shooting would be a turning point in American history.
Ms Gonzalez said the victims of the shooting would be “the kids you read about in textbooks”.
“Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting,” she said.
Meanwhile hundreds of people have attended a gun show in the same Florida county as the shooting, with the weapons on display including assault rifles like the one used in the attack.
A manager with Florida Gun Shows, Jerry Fernandez, said he believed the shooting was more of a mental health problem and not necessarily a gun problem.