WASHINGTON — When the shooting started at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Carly Novell ducked into a closet inside her journalism classroom and waited.
She said she felt “stoic,” and “in shock really,” as she and her classmates got snippets of information through texts about the killing unfolding in her school on Feb. 14, 2018. It wasn’t until later that she thought about the cruel history: She was the second person in her family to avoid death in a mass shooting this way.
The first was her grandfather, Charles Cohen, who hid in a closet in Camden in 1949 to escape what is considered the first mass shooting in U.S. history. Cohen, who was 12, lost his father, mother, and grandmother in that rampage, when 13 people were killed by Howard Unruh in the city’s Cramer Hill neighborhood.
Decades later, Novell was a senior at the high school where 17 classmates were murdered, including three teens she knew.
As the House passed a bill Wednesday to expand and strengthen background check requirements for gun purchases, Novell had a close view of the debate: She is now an intern for U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.), whose district includes Camden, and who said the Unruh massacre was a well-known part of South Jersey history growing up. Norcross told her family’s story in a speech on the House floor Tuesday night.
“As Carly says, mass shootings, gun violence, should not be generational,” Norcross said in an interview Tuesday. The connection between Novell and her grandfather “is just eerie when you think about it. But it’s almost becoming part of who we are as a country, it happens so often. How wrong is that?”
Novell said, “I hope it leaves an impact on people because it just really shouldn’t happen twice in the same family, or to anyone at all.”
Norcross added: “Hopefully, she’ll be the last generation that ever has to go through it.”
Now a freshman at George Washington University studying journalism, Novell, 18, has family in Cherry Hill, who connected her with Norcross. She spoke to a town hall there via Skype last May, and joined his office last week as a communications intern.
The House vote marked the first time since 1999 that any significant gun restriction has passed either chamber of Congress. But the measure appears unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“As much as 90 percent of people want [tighter] background checks. It doesn’t make a difference unless the vote passes,” Novell said. “Sometimes I feel defeated, because, like I said, no matter how much you talk about it, it’s not really up to us to do anything. It’s up to the representatives and the votes. But other times, I’m sad. There’s a lot of different emotions around it.”