Texts capture heartbreaking farewells as Parkland students hid from shooter
“they’re shooting in my class i’m hiding in a corner i love you …”
Jessica Luckman frantically texted her mother as gunman Nikolas Cruz prowled the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Terrified that he would barge in, Jessica hid as Cruz sprayed her classroom with gunfire. Two other students in the room were hit and died, among 17 killed around the school on Valentine’s Day. Seventeen others were wounded.
Around the school, students like Jessica tried desperately to reach family and friends using the technology that has always been part of their lives — through text messages. Their words, captured live, offer a vivid snapshot of the horror they experienced.
‘There’s a gun’
Jessica and her classmates were in their Holocaust class in Classroom 1214 — the 1200 building — when Cruz began to shoot.
Jessica, 18, of Parkland, texted her boyfriend and her mom about the gunfire.
“Are you ok???” her mom texted back. “Omg jess stay safe love you”
Jessica wrote back to her.
“there’s a shooter in the school,” she texted. “they’re shootings in my class i’m hiding in a corner i love you”
Jessica’s boyfriend, Brandon Huff, also was in a Holocaust class, but in a separate part of the school. He had stepped away to use the bathroom when his cellphone began showing a string of horrific text messages from Jessica.
The texts began at 2:24 p.m., three minutes after Nikolas Cruz entered the school to begin shooting.
“there’s a gun,” Jessica texted.
“there’s a gun.”
“i love you.”
Brandon, 18, worried.
He remembers that he couldn’t believe what he was reading.
He texted back: “What baby.”
Jessica’s class erupted in screams amid the gunfire. As bullets sprayed into the room, she was terrified the shooter would reach through the broken glass to unlock the door.
Jessica didn’t see them shot, she said, because they were on the other side of the classroom.
She hid between a filing cabinet and the teacher’s desk, away from the door.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on campus, Brandon took off running toward the 1200 building to reach Jessica. Once he arrived, he could hear the gunshots.
A security guard told him to keep away. He shouted to the guard he needed to help Jessica.
“I need to get to my girlfriend, she’s in there!”
“You can’t help her,” the guard told him.
Brandon insisted, but was physically turned around by the guard.
Seventeen minutes after Jessica’s first text, Brandon texted again.
“Baby are you okay?”
Brandon tried to call, but she hung up. The students were trying to be quiet, in case the shooter still was in the building.
The police showed up, telling the students to put their hands in the air.
‘A sense of doom’
Student Dylan Kraemer also was in Classroom 1214, when Cruz shot through the door as children cowered behind a filing cabinet and their teacher’s desk.
Cruz fired through the glass panel in the door, never coming face-to-face with his victims, Dylan said.
“The first thing I heard was two gunshots in the hallway,” the 17-year-old said. “I could see him through the window.”
Dylan and a handful of other students pushed a filing cabinet over and hid behind it trying to avoid the gunfire.
When the barrage of bullets was over, it was clear Nicholas and Helena hadn’t survived.
“They were dead immediately,” Dylan said.
Dylan said he called the police and texted both his parents from behind the filing cabinet.
In texts, he told his mom and dad he loved them.
“I didn’t know if [the shooter] was going to come back,” Dylan said.
Meanwhile, at home, Adam Kraemer, Dylan’s dad, didn’t find the one-line “I love you” text from his son out of the ordinary — his kid is mushy, he says, so he responded with an “I love you too.”
But then he heard his wife panic.
She, too, had gotten an “I love you” text. But hers also mentioned the shooter.
“I felt an icy chill down my spine,” Kraemer said. “I immediately had a sense of doom, a nauseating feeling.”
In Dylan’s class, after the shooting had stopped, silence filled the room.
Some students had trouble breathing as they panicked in the aftermath.
Zach Hibshman is a 16-year-old junior. But ever since he was in middle school, his mom has peppered him with a safety quiz: What do you do if there’s a school shooter?
Zach says his mom’s answer was “run” and “hide.”
On Feb. 14, he was standing in an outdoor stairwell by the 1200 building at Stoneman Douglas when the gunfire began about 150 feet from him, he said.
His first thought was to call his mother.
“I was terrified, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I got on the phone right away with my mom, and she told me to hide in a closet.”
Zach hid in a closet and began texting his sister.
His sister, Taryn Hibshman, is a senior at Stoneman Douglas but had luckily stayed home that day, her brother said.
As the teens’ mom jumped in the car to head to the school, Zach’s sister remained home and told her brother to calm down.
“Bro chill you freaked her out,” his sister texted. “She’s coming to the school.”
That struck Zach as a bad idea.
He texted her back, “NO NON NO.”
As time went by, Zach became less frantic.
She told him to keep his phone on silent mode and to stay down and keep texting.
“OK, I will,” he texted.
At one point, he heard police arrive.
“So we are good,” he texted his sister.
She described to him the news coverage being televised live.
“They have the shooter. That’s what people are saying,” she texted. “Just keep texting me. Just keep sending texts.”
Now reflecting on what happened, Zach said he has mixed feelings about the texts.
“They bring back memories,” he said. “But I think it’s good to keep them with me.”
‘We all seem to be safe’
As the shooting unfolded, senior Ryan Deitsch used a classroom closet for shelter.
The 18-year-old student first phoned his family to say there was a Code Red lockdown and that he was unharmed. He didn’t think the shooting was real at first, so he also texted his boss at 2:37 that afternoon.
Ryan, who has worked as a restaurant busboy for two years, wasn’t making it to his 4 p.m. shift.
“I will make it when I can,” Ryan texted. “But there is a possible gunman and I can’t drive anywhere.”
The student’s text sent a stab of fear through Joe Kelleher’s heart. He’s the general manager of Runyon’s, a Coral Springs restaurant.
Kelleher knew some emergency was underway at Stoneman Douglas. He’d just seen the footage on TV.
“I didn’t know what to think,” he said.
Then he read “possible gunman” in Ryan’s text.
All that Kelleher knew was that schools were on lockdown. Kelleher’s wife teaches at nearby Park Trails Elementary, and his daughter is a student there. His son is a student at Westglades Middle, which is adjacent to Stoneman Douglas. He also has four other employees who attend Stoneman Douglas.
Kelleher texted Ryan back.
“Is everyone ok,” he wrote.
Ryan replied, “For now we all seem to be safe.”
In the days that followed, Ryan became one of the more visible members of the Never Again movement, which is leading to a protest march on March 24.
‘hi, i got shot twice.’
Minutes into the shooting, Thomas Holgate, 17, texted his parents from the school auditorium where he and other students took refuge.
“I just want you to know I love you,” he wrote. “There is a shooter on campus. We are in code red, all hiding in the auditorium.”
His mother texted back with a heart at the end, “Love you too.”
His dad wrote: “Don’t joke” about that.
Twenty minutes after the shooter was captured, Thomas was among those to get a mass text from junior Isabel Chequer, one of the 17 who were wounded but survived.
“hi, i got shot twice. I’ll be okay,” she texted. “i hope you’re okay.”
Thomas texted back 90 minutes later.
“I’m fine. I’m so sorry.”
Geggis, Huriash and Pesantes write for the Sun-Sentinel.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.