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Md. students touched by gun violence seek support across state lines

The sign outside Great Mills High School on April 3, 2018, the day classes resumed two weeks after a fatal shooting. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

WASHINGTON — Nothing is the same at Great Mills High School since March 20.

That’s when a 17-year-old student turned up at the school in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and killed 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey, then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

That one event changed the way 17-year-old Jaxon O’Mara, a rising senior at Great Mills High, looks at everything — including summer vacation.

“The good thing about summer is, you know, not as many kids are in school. So there aren’t as many school shootings,” O’Mara said.

When her family mentions where they’re from, O’Mara said people tend to freeze up and it gets awkward. But that doesn’t happen when she talks to kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student opened fire and killed 17 in February.

March for Our Lives, Great Mills High School
A student from Great Mills High School holds up the photograph of her classmate Jaelynn Willey during the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“One of the main things that’s been helping us work through what happened at our school is being able to talk to other kids that it happened to,” said O’Mara.

“Being able to talk to somebody who isn’t afraid to talk about it and understands what we’re going through — and doesn’t treat it like a taboo — is really good.”

Students at the two schools bonded through social media and at events like the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Now, O’Mara’s started a GoFundMe page to help other students afford a trip she’s planned to take to Parkland, Florida, in August.

“Our goal is to get as many students as we can from Great Mills High School to be able to fly down to Parkland, Florida, and meet with some of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” O’Mara said.

The idea is to take the bonding they’ve experienced through social media and turn that into an in-person meetup. “We’d really like to have that healing process in person,” O’Mara said.

The original goal was $1,000. When that goal was met, O’Mara boosted it to $2,000. “The more money we get, the more students we can take,” she said.


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