(TALLAHASSE, Fla.) — As gunshots and screams echoed through his school, Lorenzo Prado said he locked himself in the sound booth at the auditorium at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and prepared to die.
But moments after the gunfire subsided and he thought he was safe, he said he was confronted by six officers pointing guns in his face.
“On the day of the Douglas massacre, I was a victim like everyone else,” Prado, 17, said during an emotional news conference Wednesday in Tallahasse, the Florida state capital. “But my case was different than all the others because on that day, I was a suspected school shooter.”
The 19-year-old Cruz, a former student at the school, was later arrested off campus after he allegedly killed 14 of Prado’s fellow students and three school staffers, including his swimming coach, Hixon.
“I was just hiding up there. I had no idea what was going on and then the door started to rattle,” Prado said. “And, at first, the only thing that came to my mind was, ‘I’m going to die, the shooter is going to kill me.'”
He said that when the door burst open, he saw the officers and initially thought he was rescued. But he quickly learned, “They thought it was me that killed 17 people.”
“I go down the stairs and they tell me to put my hands up and I, being the fool that I am, tried putting my phone back in my pocket,” he said. “They demanded again, and I, not trying to be one of those news stories of someone dying wrongfully because they refused to put their hands up, I just dropped my phone at that moment and kept going.”
When he went out the door, he said, “I had six SWAT members pointing their guns at me.”
Prado said he was tossed to the ground, handcuffed and held at gunpoint “for the degrading and depreciating action of the disturbed individual Nikolas Cruz.”
He said he was put in a corner with a police officer guarding him.
“I knew any move I made would be the end of my life,” he said. “Throughout the entire event, I only felt two things: I felt fear, as I did not know my future. I did not know if I was going to be let go. I did not know where the terrorist was. … The second thing was guilt.
“I felt guilty for closing the door behind me,” he continued. “I felt guilty for startling the audience. I felt guilty for the SWAT members who had to pursue me instead of pursuing the murderer. I felt guilty for not contacting my mother. I felt guilty for Coach Hixon, whose life I thought I saved when he walked inside the auditorium but whose life was ended when he walked out again.”
Prado joined his fellow survivors in Tallahassee Wednesday to meet with legislators to tell their stories of unimaginable horror in the hopes the politicians will take their words to heart and pass laws to make schools safe and ban assault weapons like the one Cruz allegedly used in the attack.
“If I have to drop everything else in my life just to make these changes happen, I will,” Prado said. “To me, to let these victims’ lives be taken and without any change in return is an act of treason to our great country.”
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