Sam Zeif’s life changed forever the day before his 18th birthday. On February 14, Zeif’s former schoolmate Nikolas Cruz opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 14. One of Zeif’s best friends, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was fatally shot with Cruz’s legally purchased AR-15. Zeif’s younger brother, a freshman at Douglas, was also in the school at the time and witnessed the death of his teacher Scott Beigel.
“I realized [what was going on] as soon as it started because I was on the second floor and it started, frankly, right below me,” Zeif said in an interview with The Beacon. He explained that the entire school had participated in a school shooter drill, but nothing could prepare for Nikolas Cruz and his AR-15.
“After the first seven or eights shots, the fire drill went off and we knew not to go. We sort of just heard shots going off all around us, not knowing where he was, so we sort of just waited for about an hour. It’s pretty much just hide for your life.” Zeif said. But that hour had to be the longest of his life.
Matthew Zeif was also in the building on the day of the shooting. “It was insane. It had felt like I had already lost him. It is just not knowing. You hope for the best, but you prepare for the worst. It is terrible, it is just awful. I have never felt more helpless. I felt there was nothing I could have done,” Zeif said.
Zeif tweeted out screenshots of the surreal text messages between him and his brother; they went viral with 157k retweets and 569k likes.
The next day, ironically the day Zeif would be legally able to buy an AR-15 in his home state, he learned that one of his best friends, Joaquin Oliver, died because of one. Since then, Zeif has been interviewed for TV stations, documentaries, and newspapers across the world. Although it is difficult to have to talk about such a traumatizing day over and over, Zeif said, “It is all for Joaquin. Every single part of it. That is why I can do this.”
NBA star and future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade recently dedicated his season to Oliver. “It’s Joaquin working his magic upstairs. He always said that he was gonna be a legend. And that is exactly what’s happening: he’s got parks being named after him, he’s got all these people talking about him, you’ve got Dwyane Wade making custom designed shoes with his name on them,” says Zief.
President Trump invited a plethora of people affected by school shootings just a few days after the shooting to the White House. One of them was Zeif. “It was an honor, honestly, going to speak for my community. But, you know, I really wish I didn’t have to. But, I am also glad that of the students that did, I was there to speak,” he said. He came back from the meeting unconvinced that Trump truly wanted to help. “We were his customers, he was pitching the sale to us and I think he was just trying to calm us down. I think right after we left the White House, I don’t know if immediately after, he probably had a similar conversation with the NRA, ‘what are we gonna do about these people?’” Zeif said.
Zeif offered a concrete solution to help stifle school shootings and other gun violence that he offered to Trump and TV all over the world, “I don’t think anyone should own an assault weapon. I think our schools need to be more secure, obviously. Ban assault weapons unless you are military personnel or trained and certified by the government for a certain situation. People say they are defending themselves, but the only people they are defending themselves from are people with that gun. They only like them because it is more badass than holding a pistol.”
When I mentioned that Wilson has metal detectors, Zeif said that would be helpful for schools across America.
He knew of Nikolas Cruz, the infamous killer of 17, since he was 12 years old. “He used to ride my bus. If we had silent lunch in middle school he’d be the one to stand up and scream,” Zeif said.
Although happy with the legislation that has been proposed, Zeif is not satisfied. Zeif says that we all have to, “keep moving legislation forward, keep protesting, and showing people why and how we feel the way we do. Until, like I said, we can feel safe [at school].” One of those protests is the March For Our Lives on March 24, with hundreds of thousands expected.
Alongside Parkland activists like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky, Zeif will attend the march. “I think it is going to be something definitely in the history books; it is going to be absolutely revolutionary and I think it’ll be the tipping point. A lot of people [are coming from my school], I think there are already two commercial airbuses filled.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF SAM ZEIF