Lexy Johnson, senior integrated marketing communications major, was horrified when she heard about the shooting that took place at her high school alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Now, she plans to honor the survivors and the lives lost nearly 1,000 miles away with a walk here in Oxford at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Walk of Champions.
On Valentine’s Day, Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire right before class dismissal at 2:30 p.m. at the school in Parkland, Florida, a residential suburb in the Miami metropolitan area, killing 17 people and injuring at least 14 others.
The event has sparked conversation across the country as well as the #NeverAgain movement led by the survivors of the tragedy calling for stricter gun laws. The shooting hits home for many UM students, including Johnson.
Johnson graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 2014. Her mother first tried to contact her immediately after the shooting, but Johnson said she didn’t know what happened until she received a news update.
“I was in one of my classes when my mom kept calling me, and I kept declining her call. An article then popped up on my Apple Watch that said ‘shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’ and I ran out of class,” she said. “It was really hard seeing Parkland and my high school being publicized on TV as the location of a mass school shooting. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it and the fact that my high school will always be known as a place where a mass school shooting happened.”
As a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, she distinctly remembers seeing Aaron Feis, one of the teachers who died protecting students at the school, walking down the hallways and interacting with students. Johnson said she felt she had to do something here because she couldn’t be home with those affected.
“One of the hardest things to go through during a time like this is not being able to be in Parkland with my classmates and to show my condolences to the victims and their families,” she said.
Johnson has planned a walk for Tuesday night in the Grove called “A Walk for Champions,” honoring those affected by the shooting. The walk will begin at the Walk of Champions arch in the Grove and will end at the Lyceum on the Circle. The walk will be videoed and sent to teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to “show them the Ole Miss and Oxford community supports them and stands with them.”
Johnson said the community of Parkland has been “broken” after the shooting, and she hopes to help them through the grieving process with the video.
“The key message of this event is to let the teachers and students know that they are champions to us for being so strong and returning to school after the horrific tragedy,” she said. “They are strong people for being able to go through this, yet finish out the school year strong. To me, that’s the definition of a champion.”
Not only is Johnson showing support for the Parkland community, but she also hopes to raise money for the memorial being built to replace the freshman building where the shooting happened.
The Meek School of Journalism and New Media is sponsoring the event.
Will Norton, dean of the Meek School, said the school wants to honor Lexy and her schoolmates by remembering them here in the LOU community and show support for the families of students in Parkland, Florida.
“We want to remember those who lost their lives and those who are struggling to deal with the loss of classmates and that they survived,” Norton said. “Mass killings have become a major issue in the United States, and national, state and community leaders need to talk about how to deal with the crisis and develop policies for safe schools and safe communities. In the process, we trust that we will be showing support for one of our students.”
Another graduate of MSD, Mallary Goad is a sophomore here at Ole Miss and has a sister who is a freshman at the high school. Her sister was in school when the shooting occurred last week.
“She is safe, but we have been closely affected by the lives lost, as they were our peers, teachers and coaches,” Goad said. “Wednesday was the worst day of my life. I still get sick to my stomach reading those messages from my sister from last Wednesday. I just wanted her out of the school safely, but with the shooter at large for such a long time, the wait was miserable.”
Goad said the walk is being planned is heartwarming and she has appreciated seeing the support pouring in from all parts of the country, including Oxford.
“This isn’t just something you see on the news. This is real life; these are real kids murdered, real families destroyed and an entire community suffering. I’m disappointed in myself that it took my sister’s danger and fear for her life for me to take a position on gun laws,” she said. “I will continue to do my part in this battle for those who now can’t and support my fellow classmates who have started a movement.”
Melinda Sutton Noss, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, has corresponded with Johnson during the process of planning the walk and expects there to be an outpouring of support from the community.
“Given this has specifically impacted members of our community in such a personal way, I think the opportunity for the Ole Miss family to demonstrate support and share in her grief is most fitting,” she said. “I’m glad (Lexy) has an opportunity to share with her Ole Miss family the way it has impacted her and her hometown.”
Though Parkland is several states away, tragedies like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas are becoming more common, and Johnson said she believes it is important to raise awareness in our community.
“The LOU community is comprised of many different schools, from elementary to high school, and we need to make sure this tragedy doesn’t happen in another close-knit community. By bringing communities, like the LOU community, together, we can make a change starting at the local level,” she said. “Seventeen innocent students and teachers died, and I feel like it shouldn’t go unnoticed, even in a state as far away as Mississippi.”