After Daughter's 'Unimaginable' Death, Parkland Family Moved To Action Carmen Schentrup was a senior, one week away from her 17th birthday, when she was killed. Her family reflects on her life, death and why "missing her doesn't feel like enough anymore."
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After Daughter's 'Unimaginable' Death, Parkland Family Moved To Action

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After Daughter's 'Unimaginable' Death, Parkland Family Moved To Action

After Daughter's 'Unimaginable' Death, Parkland Family Moved To Action

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We're going to spend some time now with the family of one of the students killed in last month's shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Altogether, 17 students and staff were killed. Carmen Schentrup was a senior one week away from her 17th birthday. Carmen's parents reached out to NPR to tell her story and to talk about the family's newfound activism. NPR's Melissa Block went to Parkland to listen.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: It's been one month or an eon. Sometimes it's hard to tell which.

PHILIP SCHENTRUP: You search for normalcy, a new normal. I say those words. I don't really know what they mean yet.

BLOCK: Carmen's father, Philip, is driving to pick up his younger daughter, ninth-grader Evelyn, from the bus stop after school. Carmen used to drive her sister home. Today Evelyn's bus arrives late. There was a minor accident.

EVELYN SCHENTRUP: So the bus - the driver was, like, crying and stuff. So they're like, she can't drive now.

BLOCK: Another reminder of how raw emotions still are in Parkland. Back at their home, we sit down to talk - the parents, Philip and April Schentrup, and their children - Evelyn, who's 14, and 18-year-old Robert, a freshman in college. And they unspool vignettes about Carmen.

APRIL SCHENTRUP: She learned how to read well before kindergarten.

P. SCHENTRUP: She devoured books.

ROBERT SCHENTRUP: And she loved Harry Potter.

BLOCK: Carmen played guitar, violin and piano.

EVELYN: She would go online, find a song she loved, and she would just practice until she did it.

BLOCK: She was academically gifted, skipping an early grade, took six AP classes her senior year. She had dreams of being a medical researcher, was always asking questions.

P. SCHENTRUP: She was driven by a curiosity of the world and her place in it.

BLOCK: Philip Schentrup is a tech executive, April an elementary school principal. Before now they haven't spoken to the media about the shooting. But they feel they can't stay silent any longer.

P. SCHENTRUP: We become immune to tragedy. We guard ourselves from it because then we don't have to feel the pain and suffering of others. And so we wanted to speak up. We wanted to speak out.

BLOCK: Try to imagine learning there's been a mass shooting at your children's school. Imagine hearing from one daughter that she is safe, but from your older daughter you hear nothing. You race from hospital to hospital, searching and hoping. You get no answers. It'll be 12 excruciating hours before an FBI agent tells you your daughter is among the dead.

A. SCHENTRUP: I think part of me just broke. And even as devastating as it was, I kept thinking, at least one of my children came home that day. And it's sad to think that I'm thankful that one out of two of my children came home from school.

BLOCK: Evelyn and Robert lean in close to their mother, knitting their fingers around her hand. Ultimately, the Schentrups learned what happened in Carmen's classroom that day. The gunman shot out a window in the class door, stuck the barrel of his semi-automatic assault-style rifle through and fired, bullets flying everywhere. Carmen was struck four times.

P. SCHENTRUP: People constantly say to me, I can't imagine what you're going through. Well, you should. You should try to comprehend your daughter, who you are so proud of and who was just beginning to live her life, being riddled by bullets. Being told when the medical examiner gives the body back to the funeral home, you can't see her. We have to spend days working on her body. And maybe, maybe you'll be able to see her then. Think about that and then come tell me why we can't do things to keep our kids safe.

A. SCHENTRUP: It is unimaginable. But I think we need to imagine it. I know we need to act. We need to do something more than pray and console each other.

BLOCK: The Schentrups support gun control measures like banning the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines with more urgency than ever before. They talk about their views with family members who are gun owners and NRA members, and those conversations can be painful. After Carmen was killed, Philip heard this from a close relative.

P. SCHENTRUP: Sorry, but this is the way it is. This is our Second Amendment right. And then I walk away.

A. SCHENTRUP: On the other hand, we had another family member right when this incident happened tell me, we have this type of gun in our home and we no longer want it.

BLOCK: And the Schentrups have little patience for the argument that it's the shooter that's the problem, not the weapon.

P. SCHENTRUP: If we allow him to have the gun that can fire indiscriminately large amounts of bullets, that's on us. We let that happen. Whether you call him crazy or just evil, he's the guy who pulled the trigger. We put a gun in his hand. We have a part in it. We can fix it.

BLOCK: So on March 24, the Schentrups will travel to Washington, D.C., for the protest called the March for Our Lives. They've never taken part in a protest before, but they're inspired by the Parkland students who've created a nationwide movement around reforming gun laws. Their strength, April says, has become hers.

A. SCHENTRUP: It was hard in the beginning. And it's still hard because we miss her. But missing her doesn't feel like enough anymore.

BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News, Parkland, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOLLAND SONG, "COLD SPECKS")

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