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Parkland School Shooting Survivors Recall Harrowing Details in ‘Voices of Parkland’ Documentary

Kai Koerber Jeff Vespa
Austin Nelson/BFA.com

Two years after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, leaving 17 dead and 17 others wounded, the painful memories Parkland survivors take with them illustrate those affected by the tragedy are still experiencing residual trauma.

For instance, the mouth smell of gunpowder serves as a particular trigger.

“Dylan Kraemer, one of the kids [who survived the shooting], talks about how the smell is in his mouth and his nose,” Jeff Vespa, who directed the documentary “Voices of Parkland,” told Variety at the film’s premiere Wednesday at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, recalling the Parkland survivors’ stories he gathered in the days after the shooting.

“Just to say, ‘the smell is in my mouth.’ You get it. You understand what he’s talking about,” Vespa said. “That’s not something you think about. You never think, ‘What does it smell like in a school shooting?’”

Two survivors featured in the Judd Apatow-produced documentary — student Kai Koerber and April Schentrup, mother of 16-year-old victim Carmen Schentrup — attended the premiere event and participated in a Q&A panel onstage after the screening, discussing memories of the fateful day.

“It’s definitely not easy, and especially this week,” Schentrup told Variety, holding back tears, when asked about sharing her story publicly. “I’d rather stay busy and try to do what I can to help people understand that this can happen to anyone. It happened to our family. It happens every day to so many in America.”

Koerber, now a freshman at University of California-Berkeley, has been a part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student advocacy movement against gun violence, which grew out of the shooting aftermath in Parkland, Fla.

“[The shooting] was definitely something that shook the fabric of my community,” Koerber told Variety. “I definitely think that as a result of the movement we started and what happened in Parkland, the world is in a much better place. It really rose the awareness of the issue, and had a lot of people say, ‘Okay, I’m putting money behind the right people, and we’re going to change the world in this direction.’”

Less than a month after the February 2018 shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed new gun legislation, increasing the minimum age required to buy a gun from 18 to 21, installing three-day waiting periods for gun-buyers, banning bump stocks that make a gun fire faster, limiting gun access to potentially violent or mentally unstable people and allowing certain trained school staff to be armed.

“Voices of Parkland” culls 35 voices of students, teachers, family and friends affected by the shooting, gathered by Vespa, an AFI Conservatory graduate who co-founded the photo agency Wireimage.

“Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin Oliver, was killed, he talked to me about — and this was the thing that just got me,” Vespa said. “I met him at [March 2018’s March for Our Lives]. I knew who he was at that point … I was like, ‘How are you doing this? You lost your son.’ He goes, ‘Well, you know the fear that you have as a parent that you don’t want anything to ever happen to your child? I don’t have that anymore.’”

Of the film’s themes, David Arquette, who attended the premiere with wife Christina, said, “You see everyday everything that’s happening in this country. Obviously, movements like this aren’t about taking guns away. It’s about having some comprehensive, sane gun laws that everybody agrees on and understands.”

Event partners included gun-control organization Brady and its youth program, Team ENOUGH, the quarterly publication LALA magazine and social video news brand NowThis.

Shepard Fairey and Tony Hawk spoke onstage before the film about their support for gun control and donated t-shirts, art prints and skateboards. Other celebrities attending included Jason Segel, Andie MacDowell, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Erika Christensen, Sasha Alexander and Jason Mewes.

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