TAMPA, Florida (WFLA) — Heartache swept the nation Tuesday when Americans first learned multiple children were killed in Texas, gunned down in their own classrooms.
Throughout the afternoon, as more and more details were released, each one worse than the last. Law enforcement and witnesses described what they saw as as gut-wrenching and graphic.
The facts were unfathomable. It just didn’t seem possible. Endless questions were collectively posed by the public, the same question over and over again.
Why would someone do this?
As the death toll began to rise by the hour, so did the grief.
The massacre of innocent children at a Texas elementary school sent shockwaves across the country, especially in Florida, where the news hit close to home.
The circumstances were achingly familiar.
Zaxh Hibschman knows the pain all too well. He’s been living with it four years. He survived the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018.
He was inside the school that day,. He heard the gunshots come closer and closer, his heart pounding so rapidly, he could hear it in ears.
The shooting took place during Zach’s junior year, and even though it’s been years, his memory is razor sharp when it comes to the terrifying chronology of that day. Countless lives would change forever, and it happened in an instant.
Zach remembers, with vivid detail, the exact moment he heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots. They came in succession, one after the other. And, they kept coming.
“I had the thought that I might not make it out of that school alive,” he said.
Zach’s heart was pounding in his ears as his body reacted in a jarring, profound way. His reaction was pure adrenaline.. No hesitation no pause, no delay.
His entire body, he says, reacted in a primal way. He felt the intensity of a “fight or flight” response within seconds, propelling him to find a safe place. He described what happened next as “chaos.”
He’ll never forget the sound of screaming students, their shoes hitting the pavement rapidly as gunfire chased them through buildings and classroom.
Friends and classmates ran past each other in horrifying blur, racing for cover as gunshots kept coming for them. Zach recalled the distinct realization—he might not make it out alive.
Although his path wasn’t planned, he knew his only chance at survival would require one swift and decisive action. He had to get to his homeroom, a seemingly impossible task.
The sheer will to live, he says, was instinctual, based in raw emotion and crippling fear. The combination would save his life as Zach soon found himself in a sacred place of familiarity. His homeroom became his fortress. He was crammed into a tiny closet with 15 people.
They would spend hours in the dark.
When law enforcement found Zach and his classmates, the shooting had ended. The fear did not.
Zach remembers the immense, exhaustive relief he felt when he heard the sound of SWAT team members approaching, their voices breaking the uneasy silence.
The emotions brought on by survival and the subsequent rescue were certainly not short-lived, but for Zach, those feelings eventually gave way to others, including anxiety and fear of crowds and concerts.
Zach is now in his senior year at the University of Florida. He still suffers from PTSD.
When he heard what happened in Texas on Tuesday, all the emotions and fear from Parkland came back. He says it hits close to home.
He knows countless families hurting right now, and his heart goes out to all of them. He knows there are survivors who are also hurting, just as he did four years ago.
His message to Texans: Lean on each other. That’s where you find strength.
He says it will take time.
“Grieving is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. cherish the moments you have with everyone,” he explained.
He wants families and survivors to know they will get through this, He just hopes they reach out for compassion and support. He says no one, can do this alone.
“It’s definitely in these moments, you realize love is stronger than hate. A strong and loving community is everything.”