High school senior Sam Zeif broke down sobbing in a White House meeting with President Trump Wednesday as he struggled to explain what it was like to cower in fear as an unhinged man fired round after round from an AR-15 assault rifle at his high school.
The 18-year-old was making a gut-wrenching appeal for help from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He had received widespread attention last week after he posted an emotional text message exchange he had with his freshman brother during the attack that killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
"I was on the second floor, texting my mom, texting my dad, texting three of my brothers that I was never gonna see them again," he told the president. "Then it occurred to me that my 14-year-old brother was directly above me in that classroom where (teacher) Scott Beigel was murdered."
Scariest part of it all was knowing my little brother was right above me and not knowing if I would ever see him again. I’ve never really treated him the way he deserved. Not anymore. Seeing his face outside of school was the most relief I had ever felt. My prayers to all. pic.twitter.com/Iq8CHVNXd0— Uncle Sam Zeif #Douglasstrong (@SzZeif) February 15, 2018
The teen, who turned 18 the day after last week's massacre, said he was horrified that someone his age could buy a semi-automatic rifle.
"How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon?" he asked. "How do we not stop this after Columbine, after Sandy Hook? I'm sitting with a mother that lost her son. It's still happening."
He recounted how his best friend was shot to death and how the loss gutted his heart. "I'm here to use my voice because he can't," Zeif said. "And I know he's with me, cheering me on to be strong, but it's hard. And to feel like this, it doesn't even feel like a week. Time has stood still."
He does not feel comfortable in the world anymore. He does not feel secure in his community. He longs to go to class without fearing some awful violence will descend again.
"I want to feel safe at school," he said.
Zeif was one of dozens of students and parents who traveled to Washington, D.C., to tell the president he must do something to change the way guns are sold in this country.
The "listening session" was designed to hear their stories, and their recommendations for moving forward, Trump told them.
"We cannot imagine the depth of their anguish, but we can pledge the strength of our resolve," the president said. "And we must do more to protect our children. We have to do more to protect our children."
Meanwhile, in Florida's Broward County, Sheriff Scott Israel announced deputies are now patrolling high schools with AR-15s, the same weapon allegedly used by 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz.
"Schools as soft targets need to be fortified," the sheriff said.