When a gunman shot up her school with more than 300 rounds from an AR-15 assault rifle, slaughtering 17 people and injuring 17 others, Liz Stout prepared herself to die.
She has been haunted every day since February 14 2018 by the memories of seeing a friend, Carmen Schentrup, take her last breath on their classroom floor, three others struggling to stay alive as their blood seeped around them and later, more bodies in the hallway.
“It’s so offensive to hear anyone say that what happened wasn’t real. It’s a slap in the face to all of us who were there and to the families who come home every day to one less child,” said Ms Stout (pictured above with father Richard, a former FBI agent), amid controversy over a Republican member of Congress backing claims that the massacre was staged.
“For an elected official to say this…it’s disgusting, it’s pathetic. I know what happened to me that day and everyone in that building and she just wants to create this narrative for hateful reasons that she gets pride and joy out of – I will never understand it,” added Ms Stout, 20.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-righter elected to represent Georgia’s 14th congressional district in November, represents a headache for the Republican party as it seeks direction in the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat and a violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6 that was stoked by his baseless claims of election fraud.
Prior to her election, Greene endorsed conspiracy theories including that the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a “false flag” event, along with one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 that killed 26.
She also questioned whether a jet really flew into the Pentagon during the September 11 attacks in 2001, endorsed claims that Hillary Clinton murdered a child during a Satanic ritual, and advocated for political violence by urging that freedom must be “earned with the price of blood.”
Video footage shows her harassing David Hogg, a Parkland student who co-founded the March for Our Lives gun reform movement, calling him a “coward” when he refused to respond to her provocation. On Twitter, she has also labelled him a “Little Hitler” for his advocacy.
Yet last Thursday, Greene was appointed to the House of Representatives’ Education and Labour committee – a move that Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic members of Congress for Florida, have sponsored a resolution to undo.
Greene claimed on Saturday to have had a “supportive” call from Mr Trump, whose claims of election fraud she perpetuates.
Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, will meet her this week “to have a conversation.” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, rebuked her in a statement issued on Monday: “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican party and our country,” he said.
Amid the growing noise around Greene, the emotions of grieving families and school shooting survivors have been rubbed raw. In private conversations with at least two of the Parkland families, she has reportedly stated that she does not doubt that the shootings happened as they did – yet publicly she has declined to say so.
For Ms Stout, now a university student, Greene’s words and the failure of the Republican party to call them out en masse, has been jarring.
“This third anniversary coming up, I think it’s been harder to face than other years for me, with the pandemic, the insurrection – which was incredibly triggering – and now politicians in Congress who want to be able to carry guns on the House floor or say that the things we went through weren’t real.
“We’ve got to the point this isn’t even politics – this is about character, morals and ethics.”
She recalls of the shooting: “I remember my body shaking uncontrollably and my mind preparing for death – ‘This is it, you’re going to be shot, this is how you die’…screams in the hallway, screams in the classroom. You can’t ever come back from that.”
“It’s so difficult to move on with our lives as normal college students and figure out where to go from here and hear her dismiss the most tragic moment in our lives, the deadliest day.”
She has undergone therapy to help her cope and leans on friends from MSD High for support, still trying to find her feet in a world that changed so drastically for her and others on February 14, 2018 and make sense of America’s social and political turbulence. She is at university now studying political science and anthropology. “In international relations classes, we would talk about America as a global hegemon and a world leader. Now, it’s ‘Well what are we now?’” she says.
Her father Richard Stout, 53, who was an FBI agent and a first responder at the shooting, said: “The students and faculty came out of a ‘meat grinder’ that day…and rather than band together as previous generation Americans have done, certain groups put human decency aside and decided to attack the kids. Greene is one of them.
“If not reined in with her extreme views, she will send the Republican party down a dark path and ultimately destroy them…The people of Georgia’s 14th congressional district need to reflect and ask themselves: ‘Is this the best we can do?’”