Q&A with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting Survivor Samantha Fuentes
Mar 04, 2019 09:43AM
Samantha Fuentes is a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, the deadliest school shooting in United States History. During the shooting, 19-year old Nicholas Cruz shot and killed 17 of Fuentes' classmates using an AR-15 style rifle. She was shot in the thigh and still has shrapnel lodged behind her right eye. Today, she travels the country speaking about gun violence and school safety. She recently spoke at Grand Valley State University. She shared what motivated to turn her experience into a force of good and how essential our perceptions are to transforming the way we think about guns.
Women's LifeStyle Magazine: February 14, 2018, started as just a normal day at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Can you talk about how this experience flipped your life upside down?
Samantha Fuentes: You get used to a certain flow and rhythm of everyday high school life, and you never really think, for a moment, that your life would ever be in danger. It changed my life because it gave me a whole new set of eyes. It reinstated this sense of normalcy for me. It redeveloped this idea that just because what I’m experiencing daily is average and normal and what most people consider safe, doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge population of people who are experiencing just what I did that one second.
It changed me because it taught me to be less selfish and have a more open heart and open-mind toward people and their stories. I was never really an activist before. I was outspoken, and I was someone who didn’t have trouble articulating how I felt, but I never felt that it could go past that. I never thought my words and my story could influence people and inspire people, and I think every survivor has a story and a power to them. I learned how to harness that power and use it for good. Initially, I think with everyone who experiences loss or grief or sorrow, there’s a certain trial of anger and just outright speechlessness, and you don’t know what to do with that. It could become isolating and destructive, but I think this experience has taught me that there are so many people who have the ability to hate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you do. And just because someone inflicts that hate on you, doesn’t mean you have to inflict it on the world. Sometimes it’s better to love, and I learned that more than anything meeting new people, healing, traveling the country, sharing my story and hearing the stories of others. That’s what’s truly transformed me.
"I never thought my words and my story could influence people and inspire people, and I think every survivor has a story and a power to them."WLM: How do you get people who haven't had the same experience as you understand your story and perspective?
SF: I think one of the biggest issues with the conversation that surrounds people who go through gun violence is that often it’s a statistic, it’s a number, it’s never really a person. You never really get to learn and truly understand those people who are impacted. I give a little bit of that sorrow and pain, and I let them do what they want with it. The truth is, it might never happen to you; statistically, if you’re living a certain life, and you’re doing the right things it won’t happen to you. We’re at a point in time where doing the right things and being normal and being average is not enough. It’s about going above and beyond and trying to make a difference.
All pain is relative. If anyone has the ability to feel any kind of empathy, they would understand the loss of a human is greater than any argument you can make, any statistic you can pull, any headline that you could write. And that’s what I try to instill in people, is making sure that those numbers are actually people.
What I hope my story does is give people just an ounce of my experience to take home with them, so that they can potentially make a difference.
WLM: Gun violence in schools historically hasn’t always been a constant fear until recent years. How do you reflect on how gun control policy has evolved over time, and what do you want to see change?
"Sometimes it’s better to love, and I learned that more than anything meeting new people, healing, traveling the country, sharing my story and hearing the stories of others."SF: It all comes down to the way we perceive and portray things. In our history, when it comes to the conversation around guns, it’s always been, "We’re going to defend our country, this is how we founded our country." It comes down to our ancestors and how they founded our country. When it comes to other issues, like drunk driving or romaine lettuce making people sick, we eradicate it like that. When you add a gun to the conversation, you’re adding in the culture that surrounds it and how people feel about it.
In America, we glorify guns — the way that we stockpile them, the way that we create them, the way that we import them. It's something that is so embedded in our way of life, our currency and our history. The only way we can shift the tide is to change the conversation around guns. They’re not a toy; they’re not the reason our country was founded; they’re not the reason that people are safe. Guns are dangerous, and they shouldn’t be in the hands of dangerous people.
WLM: What do you reflect on now, looking at all you’ve experienced and learned?
SF: If I learned anything, it’s that you can have a heart for the people you don’t know. You can have empathy for the lives that you’ll never see. There are going to be people who suffer who’ll never know about, but you can always have room in your heart for them.
I’m grateful to be here. What happened to my school is not unique and what happened to me is not unique. It will continue to happen to hundreds and hundreds of people; the only reason it’s drawing attention is that so many people are dead. That’s not the reason that people should want things to stop — it should’ve been at the first life that was lost.
Kayla Sosa is a multimedia journalism student at GVSU. She’s a local freelance writer and enjoys spending time with her husband, her kitty and her family. When she’s not writing, she likes to go on nature walks, do yoga and paint