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Candlelight Vigil Attendees Rage Against Politicians For School Violence

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. A massive crowd turned out yesterday in Parkland, Fla., for a candlelight vigil. People had come to share their sorrow and to honor the 17 people who died in this latest mass school shooting. But as North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, many of them came to voice rage. They blame politicians for failing to curb gun violence.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: They started gathering in this park at 2:30 in the afternoon, exactly 24 hours after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Jesse Vandereems, who's a freshman, comes with his mom Ilene. He was in the building where classmates and teachers were gunned down.

JESSE VANDEREEMS: I prayed every moment. And everybody was, like, crying.

MANN: How are you doing now?

JESSE: Better. I found out that a couple of people I knew have passed away, but I'm better now.

ILENE VANDEREEMS: It's hard to deal with at any age. But 14 - to lose people you love, it's just hard. It's very rough.

MANN: Jesse looked shaken and kind of dazed. Ilene, his mom, says she's the one who's really frightened.

I. VANDEREEMS: It's scary that it's life now. I mean, when we were kids growing up, you know, if you were upset or you were bullied or anything bad happened, you took it out behind the school, and you fought with fists. You didn't fight with guns, you know. And it's scary that my children have to grow up in this world.

MANN: As the afternoon wears on, people keep gathering - more and more families, some of them sitting on Red Cross blankets between the palm trees. A little girl passes out bright ribbons. A lot of the kids seem off balance, knocked sideways by what they witnessed.

HUNTER FRYBERGH: I looked to my right at the freshman building, and I saw two bodies on the ground. There was blood.

MANN: Hunter Frybergh is also 14, a freshman. He survived the attack hiding in a closet.

HUNTER: I can't get a shake out of my voice. I just - I have just nightmare last night where the shooter just had a gun to my head. I just stared at my wall all night.

MANN: By 6 o'clock, the park is packed with people. They pray together. They light candles as the Florida sun sets. Then Fred Guttenberg steps to the microphone.

FRED GUTTENBERG: This makes no sense. This is impossible. My girl - my 14-year-old baby...

MANN: He's talking about his daughter Jaime, one of those gunned down.

GUTTENBERG: I sent her to school yesterday. She was supposed to be safe. My job is to protect my children. And I sent my kid to school. What is unfathomable is Jaime took a bullet and is dead. I don't know what I do next.

MANN: A lot of people here say they do know what they want next. They want state lawmakers here in Florida and members of Congress in Washington to do something about guns, especially about the assault rifle-style weapon used in this shooting and so many other massacres. Grace Solomon is a Parkland city commissioner.

GRACE SOLOMON: We are going to go to Tallahassee next week, and we need every mom and every dad and every kid to show up there and stand together - not just Parkland, I mean everyone. I mean the parents of Sandy Hook. It's time to say, enough. This is enough. I want...

(APPLAUSE)

MANN: Again and again, talk of tough gun laws draws roars of applause. The people in this crowd say they do think there's a chance that this time this violence will spark some kind of change in how voters and politicians balance gun rights against the safety of children. Scott Israel, the sheriff here in Broward County, issues a blunt warning.

SCOTT ISRAEL: If you're an elected official, if you want to keep your gun laws as they are now, you will not get re-elected in Broward County.

(APPLAUSE)

MANN: Not everyone agrees. Jason Frybergh is the dad of Hunter Frybergh, the 14-year-old we heard from a moment ago who saw bodies lying outside his high school. This father says he thinks it's probably too late now for new laws to change much.

JASON FRYBERGH: The AR-15s are out there. The ammunition is out there. The crazy people are out there. This is the society we live in. We just have to get more diligent about protecting our citizens. And it's not a joke.

MANN: He says schools need to be a lot more secure - maybe like airports, he says, maybe like prisons if that's what it takes to keep his children safe.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Parkland, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAIGO HANADA'S "BUTTERFLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.