Night at the Museum with School-Shooting Survivors
Late on a rainy afternoon last week, Cameron Kasky and Zion Kelly, gun-reform activists, were in the lobby of the Hotel Beacon, on the Upper West Side, wearing tuxedos. Kasky is a survivor of the mass shooting, in February, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. He was memorably self-assured when, on CNN, he pressed Senator Marco Rubio about accepting N.R.A. funding; he went on to help organize the March for Our Lives. At that protest, Kelly, a high-school senior from Northeast Washington, D.C., spoke about the death of Zaire, his twin brother, who was shot and killed during an attempted robbery. Kasky and Kelly were waiting for Samantha Fuentes, another Parkland student, to join them; they would then drive to the American Museum of Natural History, each accompanied by a parent, to accept awards at pen America’s annual gala. Referring to a scene in “Night at the Museum,” Kasky observed that his “biggest concern is being chased by very small cowboys.”
Kasky, whose off-air manner leans toward deadpan facetiousness, told Kelly, “I forgot to say that a lot of the girls in my class think you’re hot. I don’t know what you want to do about that.” He added, “I gave every single one of them your number.”
“Really?” Kelly asked, for a moment unsure.
There was talk of congressional lobbying, a book proposal, and a push for voter registration. Referring to David Hogg, another leader of their movement, Kasky asked Kelly, “Does David fill you in on these things?”
“Most of the time,” Kelly said.
“His brain works at the speed of a hummingbird,” Kasky said.
Fuentes came out of the elevator. “Hello, fellas,” she said. The three of them, and three parents, climbed into a car. Jeff Kasky, Cameron’s father, reminded the students that they had opted not to walk on the red carpet. His son said that he wished event photographers were “a bit more understanding of people who aren’t very photo—”
“Genic,” Kelly said.
Kasky laughed. “I was going for ‘photo-oriented.’ ”
“A lot of these photographers want to zoom in on my face or my legs,” Fuentes said. She was referring to evidence that she was hit by shrapnel, and, in her left leg, by a bullet.
The car turned onto Central Park West. “Do you guys want to ditch this event and get ‘Escape to Margaritaville’ tickets?” Kasky asked. David Hogg called Kelly to ask about pending legislation to lower the voting age in D.C. to sixteen.
In the museum, they were shown into a room just off the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, to wait for a sound check.
“I’m very, very hungry,” Kasky said. “I would like to eat that prehistoric bird.” He encouraged Kelly to pose, seated, at the head of a long polished table, and made a silent three-second video, which, posted on Twitter, was watched a hundred thousand times during the following twenty-four hours.
The conversation included Citizens United and “Deadpool 2.”
“Is there anyone in here who works directly for this museum?” Kasky asked. There was not, so he lay down on the table, on his side, his head supported by one hand.
“O.K., Dad, get the picture,” he said.
On the way to the sound check, Fuentes, who is a senior, talked about “The Universe in a Nutshell,” by Stephen Hawking, and said, “I wanted to be an elementary-school teacher, but now I’m scared of being a schoolteacher. So, something else.”
She caught sight of Morgan Freeman. “I want him to narrate my entire life!” she said. She added that she considered her role, among the March for Our Lives activists, to be more motivational than organizational. “Am I coming up with policies? No. Am I coming up with budgets? No. That’s more Cameron’s department.” She was not yet used to public speaking. “And that was evident at the march,” she said, laughing, referring to an interruption, at that event, when she threw up.
When the students returned to their greenroom, some of the evening’s other speakers were there. Jeff Kasky made a hesitant request of Margaret Atwood: Would she sign a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with the message “Better get the fuck out while you can”? Atwood paused, and softly proposed, “Or, ‘Better vote while you can’?”
When Fuentes later spoke, she was again sick, and left the stage. Kelly gave his speech. Fuentes returned, smiling, with her mother. “I think sometimes I forget I got shot, and I think that things are easy,” she told the audience. “And then you throw up onstage for the second fucking time in a row.”
She ended her remarks with a message to those affected by the shooting at Santa Fe High School, in Texas, four days earlier. “I know what it feels like to lose the ones you love right in front of your eyes: the rage, the sadness, the anguish, and the fear. My arms are open for you, to embrace you, but also to fight for you. Stay beautiful, and good night.”
This article appears in the print edition of the June 4 & 11, 2018, issue, with the headline “Night at the Museum.” Ian Parker contributed his first piece to The New Yorker in 1994 and became a staff writer in 2000.