On February 14, 17-year-old Madeline Wilford was sitting at her desk at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Chatting with classmates. Perhaps counting down the minutes till the day’s end, wondering if she might receive a Valentine’s Day rose.
The shooter could be heard a few classrooms down, his shots breaking through the glass windows of the first class room, through the door, onto the next classroom.
Wilford and her classmates dropped to the floor, wedging themselves into hiding away from the door and windows. The 17-year-old basketball player was hiding between the teacher’s desk and podium, but was pushed toward the centre of the room as the gunman approached.
“I felt a shot hit me,” she said. “I realised I was shot and an immense amount of pain went over me. The first thing I thought was that I was going to die. I was screaming, ‘Help me! Help me!’ I was frantic. I didn’t know what to do.”
Wilford was shot four times. She suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs and three tendons had to be reattached in her right arm. She said she felt peace, as she collapsed against the wall.
Amelia Lester explains why the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida feels different to that of any shooting before it. Post continues below.
It was silence, not mayhem, when Officer Chris Crawford arrived at the school moments after the shooting.
Victims of the gunfire lay in the hallways, as teachers and students hid in classrooms, fearing for their lives. Even those who had called 911 were too afraid to speak, lest they attracted the attention of the shooter.
“It was awful. It was as bad as you can imagine, times 10,” Officer Crawford told CNN.
“Every time I turned around, there was another officer with blood [of victims] all over them. It was horrendous… I have a two-year-old. I don’t want to send him to school.”
The former marine said the students were afraid to trust him when he said he was a police officer. That they’d barricaded themselves in classrooms and refused to open the door. It’s an anecdote that speaks to the terror and trauma these students suffered.
“I knocked on the door and told them ‘I’m Coral Springs Police’,” he told CNN.
“They said they were not going to open the door. I had to negotiate with them. They made me slide my ID under the door. I could hear more and more desks get pushed up [against] the door.”
“I slid my ID under the door and they started asking me questions like what my ID number was … stuff that was on our IDs.”
Madeline Wilford returned home from the hospital on Wednesday, a week after the shooting.
She received visits from President Donald Trump and also members of the SWAT team who responded to the shooting. The first-responders said Wilford serves as a beacon of hope following such a tragedy, Deseret News reports. After seeing so many people die – 17 in total and 16 others injured – Wilford’s strength and rapid recovery is therapeutic.
A basketball team in Maine has also paid tribute to her strength, wearing shirts emblazoned with “Fight Like Maddy” at a game last week.
“She’s serving as a thing people can look to and see as a sign of hope,” the 17-year-old’s father, David Wilford said.
“She was shot four times with an assault rifle at close range and now she’s sitting downstairs a week later with two friends from church, laughing. I can’t even believe it.”