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Marjory Stoneman Douglas Alumna Texted with Friend in Room with Shooter

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, via Wikipedia

A shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County Wednesday afternoon has resulted in 17 deaths. This is the 18th school shooting in the United States this year, and it happened in what the National Council for Home Safety and Security called the safest city in Florida last year.

One alumna of the school now calls Southwest Florida home. And, if anyone knows the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it’s Brianne Merchant.

“It is kind of spread out," Merchant said. "There’s, like, a main building, and it’s shaped like a square almost. And, the middle is completely empty. It’s a courtyard. So, like, when you walk to class, you’re walking in one big square.”

Merchant walked that square of the Parkland high school until her graduation two years ago. Since then, she moved less than two hours across the peninsula to study journalism at Florida Gulf Coast University. But, the news of Wednesday’s mass shooting on the campus of her alma mater wasn’t broken to her by other journalists.

“My grandma actually texted me when I was in class," Merchant said. "My first initial reaction was just 'I didn’t believe it' I think. So, I went on Facebook, and there was already the live stream posted.”

And, then, Merchant said, the texts flooded in.

“My friend Amanda was in the classroom with the shooter," Merchant said, "and I was told that there was three students that were shot in front of her.”

Amanda herself was fine, Merchant said, physically at least.

“Douglas is such an amazing high school," Merchant said. "I wasn’t originally assigned for that school. I was assigned for Piper High School, which is not known to be the best high school, so I switched because Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an ‘A’ school, was known for its safety. You don’t hear about that happening in your town, and that’s what surprised me the most.”

As Merchant talked about the shooting, less than three hours after it occurred, her little brother was still in lockdown at nearby Coral Springs Middle School. He was frantically texting their mom, who would then relay the messages to her.

She said she didn’t initiate contact with him or students, besides Amanda, who she knew at the high school because of the fear of making an active shooter situation even worse than it already was for her loved ones and all the others huddled in classrooms with them.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.
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