Mass shooting survivor says she tried to ​befriend killer​ before tragedy struck but it didn't make a difference.
Julia Suconic, hugs her friend Nathan Schoedl. Both are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP Photos.

The first time Isabelle Robinson met Nikolas Cruz, he knocked the wind out of her and smirked as he watched her cry.

“The force of the blow knocked the wind out of my 90-pound body; tears stung my eyes. I turned around and saw him, smirking," Robinson, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, writes in an op-ed for The New York Times. “I had never seen this boy before, but I would never forget his face. His eyes were lit up with a sick, twisted joy as he watched me cry."


It's a chilling picture, one made even more frightening by the fact that Robinson assumed that adults would take notice and take care of the situation. She even showed Cruz kindness. Five years later, Robinson writes, she was huddled in a closet as he took 17 lives.

Robinson's piece isn't a personal takedown of Cruz. Rather, it's a reality check for those who believe that “kindness" will stop school shootings.

Parkland students and gun owners got into a heated debate that ended in tears and hugs.

This is an idea that has been perpetrated by the leaders of the “Walk Up, Not Out" movement that made headlines leading up to nationwide school walkouts on March 14.

On the surface, the idea is deceptively logical: If more people were friendly to those deemed “outsiders," gun violence would decrease and schools would become safer places.

On March 14, encourage students to walk up. Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite her to sit with you. ...
Posted by Amy Flynn on Thursday, March 8, 2018

But the reality of the situation is much different. As Robinson recounts in her op-ed, kindness is exactly what she tried to show Cruz. In eighth grade, a year after she says he physically assaulted her, she was assigned to tutor him. She did her best to push down her feelings of fear as Cruz continued to harass her.

“Despite my discomfort, I sat down with him, alone," she writes. “I was forced to endure his cursing me out and ogling my chest until the hourlong session ended. When I was done, I felt a surge of pride for having organized his binder and helped him with his homework."

“Looking back, I am horrified. I now understand that I was left, unassisted, with a student who had a known history of rage and brutality."

The reason Robinson didn't refuse the assignment? She cites a “desire to please" and to be seen as mature. “I would have done almost anything to win the approval of my teachers."

That's what those who believe that kindness alone is the answer are missing: that the children they're entrusting with the task of ending violence are just that — children.

Make no mistake, Robinson isn't against the idea of kindness. But kindness isn't enough. And when it comes to solving issues like gun violence, students — who load up their backpacks and go to school with the expectation of learning in a safe environment — should never be the first line of defense. Nor should the blame for violence be placed squarely on those who have been victimized in school shootings.

Brandon Dasent and Tyah-Amoy Roberts, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

“It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable, or violent tendencies," Robinson writes. “It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution."

Robinson's story is both heartbreaking and all too familiar. A tragedy like Parkland has everyone demanding answers and seeking solutions. But too often, the conversation steers to victim-blaming, with fingers quickly being pointed at the survivors for not doing enough to prevent the tragedy. Even when, as in Robinson's case, students actually put themselves in potential danger trying to be kind.

The therapy dogs that helped the Parkland survivors got their own yearbook page, and yes, we're crying.

Asking children to put themselves in danger in the name of kindness is not the answer.

“The implication that Mr. Cruz's mental health problems could have been solved if only he had been loved more by his fellow students is both a gross misunderstanding ... and a dangerous suggestion that puts children on the front line," Robinson states.

But then what should be done? While children are leading the #NeverAgain movement, they can't be the only ones who demand change. As adults, we must protect them at all costs. And that means we must listen. And we must take action by recognizing that kindness isn't the first line of defense against mass shootings — widespread gun reform is.

Sarah Morris/Getty Images

This article was originally published on March 28, 2018.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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