Ireland Hadley, 17, is one of five students behind Tuesday's Jacksonville rally and die-in, which called attention to the March For Our Lives movement. Gun violence hits close to home for Hadley, who can name two AK-47 assault weapon owners. His gut stung after Pulse, a place that used to symbolize intimate, cheerful moments for him and his fellow LGBT community members.
Ireland Hadley collapsed for 12 minutes Tuesday on the Duval County Courthouse lawn.
Around him sprawled 22 other bodies, fidgeting only to wipe beads of sweat or lift orange picket signs a little higher.
Over 700 miles away, people fell to the Capitol lawn, and in other cities across the nation, people lay still from noon to 12:12 p.m. They wanted to commemorate the two years since Omar Mateen shot 49 people dead with a Sig Sauer MCX rifle in Orlando's Pulse nightclub. They wanted to strike a nerve and demand change. They don’t all want to take guns away from their owners, but many of them want background-checked, law-abiding citizens in control of those guns.
Hadley, 17, is one of five students behind Tuesday's Jacksonville rally and die-in, which called attention to the March For Our Lives movement. Gun violence hits close to home for Hadley, who can name two AK-47 assault weapon owners. His gut stung after Pulse, a place that used to symbolize intimate, cheerful moments for him and his fellow LGBT community members.
He’s friends with a young woman who was close with Nicholas Dworet, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who Nikolas Cruz shot dead with an AR-15-style rifle on Valentine’s Day.
Now, going to school frightens Hadley.
“I don’t know if I’m gonna walk out in either a body bag or on my two legs,” he said. He has twin baby sisters who will follow in his footsteps through Jacksonville and its school system, and he said that after the recent mass shootings, he hasn’t noticed much change. He's outraged that more than 100 people were shot and killed last year in Jacksonville, and he even knows a person who shot someone. “That’s not normal,” he said, frustrated.
Another one of Jacksonville’s student leaders, Kaelan Kindy, 19, traveled to the Tuesday die-in in Washington, D.C.
After Kindy and others spoke to a group of around 100 people at the Capitol, speakers read the names of each person killed in the Pulse shooting.
In Jacksonville, they did the same.
Five or six counter-protesters carried signs during the Capitol die-in that said all rights matter, not just LGBT rights, and that guns protect those LGBT rights, Kindy said.
Still, at 12:12 p.m., half the die-in participants brushed off their clothing and headed to die a second time at U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s Washington office, he said.
Two shootings impacted Kindy: one at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville in 2012, where Kindy was a student, and one in Parkland, where Kindy had a friend. Kindy said he and 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver used to talk about musicians before Cruz shot him.
“I definitely think we were heard,” Kindy said after the D.C. die-in. “We will not be quiet until this is solved.”
Mia Cleary, 18, who’s met with some Parkland student activists, helped lead Tuesday’s Jacksonville die-in. She said she refuses to let her friends or herself be the next students to be shot, and she said she’s felt helpless at the hands of her administrators at Ponte Vedra High School. She still believes a mass shooter could make their way into her school, and that there hasn’t been enough done to shut communication gaps or increase school district psychology services.
“Anyone [who] knows high school knows mental health is something that they just ignore,” said Cleary, who doesn’t know what to do when a classmate shows signs of distress.
Hadley, a Fletcher High School senior, agreed March For Our Lives-inspired rallies and die-ins are about more than just calling to end gun violence. He said despite some efforts to promote diversity and boost security, the public school system is failing people who live behind mental illness stigmas. That stigma doesn't only plague people within schools, he said.
“It’s also a societal thing, that people with mental illnesses aren’t real ... it’s just something that they’re doing it for attention,” he said.
Still, it’s students who’ve decided to call for change, said Cleary, who remembers watching videos of bloodied bodies in Parkland. The school’s resemblance to her own high school in Ponte Vedra Beach was striking.
“They had the same tile floors and the same fluorescent lighting,” she said. They had similar desks, identical hallways.
Cleary said what made the Parkland aftermath even more painful for her was that after all the students’ marches, tears and chants, she didn’t notice any changes in policy or enforcement.
Adrena Forrest, 18, one of the Jacksonville die-in leaders, said she felt the same after a 17-year-old shot and killed 10 art students last month in Santa Fe, Texas. “I really thought we were making progress and we were getting somewhere,” she said.
Latasha Hobbs, who attended the die-in Tuesday on the courthouse lawn, said gun violence is almost “being accepted as the norm in Jacksonville.”
Her son, Maurice Hobbs, was shot and killed on Jan. 26, 2017, while she was driving to pick him up, only 10 houses away. Hobbs participated with her daughter Kienna, 16, who performs her own daily die-ins, which last from 30 to 60 seconds, in the same spot her brother took his last breath. She crumples to the ground in front of a fence painted red, her brother’s favorite color.
“To see children laying on the lawn in front of the courthouse, what more impact can you make,” Latasha Hobbs asked.
Forrest agreed the die-in, a visual outcry, was unique and could provoke local interest, or at least a visceral response for passersby.
There was no counter protest during the Jacksonville die-in.
Cleary and Hadley emphasized the need to keep the March For Our Lives movement going. They said marching once wasn’t enough, holding a town hall or school walk-out wasn’t enough. They crave energy and plan to maintain it through July, when Parkland students are expected to hit the Jacksonville stop on their national tour to register young voters.
After all, Hadley said, if elected officials don't succeed in initiating change, then students must vote.
According to public records, 1,466 Duval County voters under the age of 21 registered since the shooting in Parkland. Between the same dates in 2017, 361 fewer voters under the age of 21 registered.
“I can’t stop doing what I’m doing,” Cleary said. “This isn’t over.”