Parkland survivor reflects on tragedy


Noam Jacobovitz

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 owned AR-15. Zeif spoke with President Trump on live TV alongside a contingent of people affected by school shootings just a few days after, emphasizing the fact that he was legally able to buy an AR-15 the same day he found out his best friend died because of one. Zeif posted text messages between him and his younger brother to Twitter that went viral with 160k retweets and 570k likes. I got the chance to talk with Zeif a few days after he left DC.

Noam: How are you right now?

Sam: I’m on my way to the tribute basketball game to my friend who was on our rec team. It’s our first playoff game and first game back since all this shit happened.

N: Dwyane Wade recently announced that he dedicated his season to your friend, Joaquin Oliver. Can you talk about what that means to you?

S: It’s Joaquin working his magic upstairs. He always said to really everyone that he’s gonna do big shit when he’s older, that he’s 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. It is just Joaquin working his magic, doing his thing. It is exactly where we would imagine him being: everywhere.

N: If you would feel comfortable, could you walk me through that day?

S: 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. We got into the positions we had trained for and just hid. Lights off, the door was locked. My teacher covered the door window with paper so [Nikolas Cruz] couldn’t see in. 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.

N: Did you think there was a good understanding from teachers of what to do in that situation?

S: I mean all that they really knew what to do was just to hide and be quiet. What we had trained for and what was called when it happened was Code Red, and its pretty much hide for your life. My teacher knew where to go, lights were off, class was, for the most part, calm.

N: Are you still doing interviews or other related media activities?

S: This is my first one in a few days. I have done some parts for documentaries. My friends and I are working on doing some “What If” videos, I don’t know if you’ve seen those on Twitter.

N: What is your general goal by doing all the media stuff?

S: We are gonna keep fighting, speaking about it, protesting, and all of that until we, or anyone, doesn’t have to worry about going to school.

N: How was it going back [to school]?

S: We went last Wednesday, that was the first day back. There were therapy dogs everywhere, 70+ cops around. We haven’t really done anything. Tomorrow is supposed to be the first day back in curriculum. But it’s weird. It’s like, as one of my teachers said to me, not really just putting everything aside and going back to normal, but finding a new normal. We are just going through this right now and adjusting to the new environment.

N: What inspires and has inspired you to keep on doing so many interviews even if they are not easy, as for example, you did an interview for an international station at 2 am?

S: It is all for Joaquin. Every single part of it. There are the 16 other lives and I hate to say this, but Joaquin impacted my life in ways like none of those 16 other lives could. That is why I can do this.

N: I saw on Twitter the very surreal text messages between you and your brother that went viral; how tough was it knowing that your younger brother (freshman) was in another part of the school?

S: It was insane bro, 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.

N: Did you know Nikolas Cruz?

S: I had seen this kid since I 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. He would kick doors in, kick windows in. He frickin’ went to this girl I know, one time he chopped off a bird head and gave it to her.

N: Jeez.

S: Yeah. Insane.

N: With more legislation being proposed relating to gun laws, are you happy with what has happened so far?

S: Definitely. I’m very happy with it, I’m just not satisfied. It’s progress, and progress is progress, period. It is steps in the right direction and hopefully we can make more of it.

N: What do you specifically want to see change?

S: 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. Even the National Guard doesn’t own any weapons. They keep them in a safe for work. There is no need for 150 rounds in three minutes, or whatever the numbers are, there is just no need for them. 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.

N: What did it mean to talk with President Trump on live TV, being watched by millions of people?

S: 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.

N: Do you think President Trump seemed like he wanted change even though he got $20+ million from the NRA during his campaign?

S: Like I said, he’s a businessman. 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?

N: What do you think is the next step from here?

S: 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]. I’ve got 35+ cops in my school today and I still don’t feel safe.

N: My school has metal detectors, do you think that would be helpful for your school and other schools?

S: Yeah I do think it would be helpful. But they can hop the fence, it’s just like the (inaudible), if they want to get something they’re gonna find a way to get it.

N: Yeah that’s true. No matter what you do they’ll find a way around.

S: Exactly, that’s why we need to not act like it’s just ok for people to be owning these types of weapons and walking around with them.

N: I know you are coming down for the March For Our Lives on March 24th, what do you expect?

S: Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. I’m not really collaborating with Emma Gonzalez, or David Hogg, or Cameron Kasky. I’m not speaking or planning with them like I should be. 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.