When news broke of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, its most famous alumnus, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, knew he needed to go home.
But nothing could prepare Rizzo, 28, for what he experienced when he arrived in his Florida hometown to support those affected by the carnage.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, going back,” Rizzo said at a press conference after returning to spring training in Mesa, Ariz., Monday. “You don’t know what to say. There’s nothing you can say. You’ve just got to be there for people in these times. There’s really nothing you can say and nothing you can do but be there and show them you care for them and you’re there for them.”
Rizzo visited victims at the hospital and spoke last week at a vigil in Parkland, where he told the community that they are not alone.
"The country grieves with you," he said.
Rizzo often returns to his alma mater, where his agent's niece was among the 17 killed in the shooting.
He kept in touch with many of the people who helped shape him into the person he is today and just three weeks ago spoke to assistant football coach Aaron Feis, who was also killed when Nikolas Cruz, 17, allegedly opened fire.
“Every single one of my best friends in high school, we all have memories of Coach Feis, and for him to lay his life down like that and save kids, it just shows the type of person he is,” Rizzo said Monday.
The 2007 graduate commended students for their response to the tragedy, as many of the teens have spoken out about politics and gun control.
“For them to be outspoken about it shows that they’re not just going to sit back and be another statistic,” Rizzo said. “They really want to make a change.”
Though he pointed out he himself has not spoken on gun control, Rizzo noted the dizzying frequency with which mass shootings occur in the country.
"As a human being, probably like everyone in here when they heard ‘initial shooter,’ I took my next golf swing," Rizzo said of his reaction when news of another shooting broke. “That’s how numb this country is to it. Until something crazy happens, you hear ‘open shooter’ nowadays, it’s OK, you take your next breath, and keep going. Then I found out it was at Douglas … and it was gut-wrenching.
“To be very clear, I did not say the word 'gun' one time,” he also said. “Anyone out there who wrote I'm calling for gun control is very irresponsible. I did not say that once. I don't know enough about it. I don't know what needs to be done, but some type of change needs to happen for the better."