JROTC Students Had to Grab the Nearest Thing Available to Save Lives in Florida Shooting


In the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, stories of courageous acts by students and faculty have once again emerged from the tragic overtones of a senseless massacre.

As ABC News reported, two leaders in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School JROTC program are being praised for their ability to create a plan under fire that potentially saved the lives of others inside the Parkland school.

Zackary Walls, a 17-year-old company commander, recalled the series of events that put his class directly in the gunman’s line of fire.

“I’m in charge of a whole class period, about 55, 60 kids, and we were out there for formation,” he said.

Just minutes before the first shots were fired, he said he decided to wrap up before the bell rang.

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“I don’t know why, but something in me just told me to go in early,” he said.

About 10 minutes later, Walls said he heard the fire alarm sound and he began leading students out of the classroom.

“I line all the kids up outside,” he said. “I’m leading the line and we’re heading out, and it just so happens our fire zone was exactly where the shooter was.”

Walls said he did not see the shooter, but he “heard the first two or three pops” and immediately recognized them as gunshots.

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“I looked back at all the kids behind me,” he recalled. “There’s 60 kids looking at me, ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’ I just yell, ‘Get back in the classroom!'”

After attempting to restore some order to the chaotic situation, Walls said he began corralling everyone — including other students and teachers scrambling to find a safe spot — into the room.

At that point, he began coordinating a plan with 17-year-old Colton Haab, another JROTC captain who had also been escorting people to safety after hearing an initial burst of pops.

“As soon as I heard the seven gunshots, I reopened the door and I was taking a step,” Haab said. “My first sergeant walked in the room said, ‘Don’t go,’ so I turned around, shut my door, pulled a student in and I brought him into the other room and I started getting people in.”

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Walls said the two quickly formulated a plan around Haab’s “genius” idea — one that involved Kevlar mats.

“We shoved them in the back of the classroom and me and Colton took these Kevlar mats that we have from our marksmanship training,” Walls said.

Haab reportedly had the idea to put them to a much more practical use.

“He goes, ‘Hey, we should put those mats in front of everyone, they’re Kevlar,'” Walls said. “They’re big hanging curtains.”

The pair then went to work putting the plan into place as they prepared for the gunman to potentially enter their room.

“I went and confirmed it with my first sergeant, and me and (Haab) started moving them,” Walls said. “We made a wall in front of all the kids out of the Kevlar pads.”

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Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a wide range of newsrooms.
Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of newsroom settings. After covering crime and other beats for newspapers and radio stations across the U.S., he served as managing editor at Western Journalism until 2017. He has also been a regular guest and guest host on several syndicated radio programs. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and son.
Texas Press Association, Best News Writing - 2012
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