By Paris Woods
FORT MYERS — Jacob Stanley spent his Valentine’s Day like most of Florida SouthWestern State College’s other student athletes: at practice. As Stanley, a first baseman for FSW, pulled into City of Palms Park, and parked his car, he pulled out his phone and took a quick peek at Twitter before he got out of the car and headed to the locker room. What he read stunned him.
Stanley, who at press time was not planning to return to FSW, is a Stoneman Douglas High alumnus. His first reaction was to think of all of the people he had come to know throughout his high school years. He called his younger brother Jacoby, who was a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas.
As the phone rang and rang, he sat in the silence of the car, praying that Jacoby would pick up the phone. Jacob let out as a sigh of relief as the ringing was interrupted by the voice of his younger brother.
“I can’t talk right now, I’ll call you back!” Jacoby hung up.
Jacob was left in utter disbelief. Jacoby’s response left him even more worried. Unable to comprehend what was happening, he left the ball field in a panic and sped back to his dorm room. Still waiting to hear back from his brother, he packed up his things to leave for Parkland. He feared for his brother’s life, and for the lives of many of his other friends who still attend Stoneman Douglas.
“My parents were attending a movie to celebrate Valentine’s Day together, so neither of them would pick up the phone nor did they have any idea what was going on,” Jacob recalled. “At that point, I knew I had to get home right away. Practice was the last thing on my mind. All I was concerned about was the safety of my brother.”
Jacoby, 16, plays shortstop for Stoneman Douglas. He strives to follow in his brother’s footsteps and play at the college level.
Jacob Googled the shooting and read news articles about the massacre. As he learned more information about the deaths and injuries, he found himself becoming extremely worried that Jacoby might be dead.
Jacob knew that his brother’s classroom was in Building 12, the same building the shooter walked through, so this painted a devastating picture in Jacob’s mind. Since he had attended the school himself, he could visualize where the shooter was and what the site of the shooting looked like.
As Jacob sped down I-75, Jacoby texted back. He wasn’t harmed in the shooting. Two of his classmates and his teacher Mr. Beigel, however, were not so lucky. One of Jacob’s good friends, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver was among the deceased. Even though his brother made it out alive, Jacob still lost a loved one.
“The gun was so powerful that the bullets made it through the door and the walls and killed two of his (Jacoby’s) classmates and his teacher,” Jacob said. “So for around 20 minutes he and his classmates sat in a classroom with their dead bodies and blood everywhere. He said it was surreal, like he couldn’t believe that it was actually happening.”
The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has left many Parkland families emotionally scarred. Alongside the 17 deceased victims and 14 injured were around 3,000 other students and staff members along with their families who suffered great emotional distress. The shooting has created great turmoil calling for stricter gun laws, arming of teachers, and more safe school environments. Many of the Parkland shooting survivors such as David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and others have organized events across the country such as the March for Our Lives movement, demanding reform and reliable gun control in the United States.
Jacob Stanley, like many of the other family members of the students present at the Stoneman Douglas shooting, had to worry and assume the worst.
“I knew the freshman building was unique in that there’s only one way in and one way out, so that made it easy for Nikolas Cruz to do a full walk through and shoot at everyone,” Jacob said. “I’m just glad that Jacoby was one of the fortunate ones to make it out alive.
In the weeks after the shooting, Jacob traveled back and forth between Fort Myers and Parkland numerous times to spend time with his family and attend funerals. His coach was sympathetic and allowed him and his other teammates from Parkland to travel home, grieve and heal.
Jacob spent the first week and a half after the shooting back home in Parkland. He missed several, classes, practices and two games.
The week of the shooting, Parkland held a candle-lighting at Pine Trails Park in memory of the 17 victims. Hundreds of people gathered to mourn and give their condolences to the people of Parkland. Some traveled across the country to attend the service.
Jacob takes pride in being from Parkland and feels proud that the people of his community have come together to make a statement nationwide and promote a need for change.
As the season wore on, Jacob returned to City of Palms Park every afternoon for practice. He tried not to let the negativity affect him. Jacob used the tragedy as motivation. He was proud to represent Parkland on and off the field. He got back to playing regularly and spending time with his teammates. His normal life as a college athlete returned.
He hit a grand slam and several home runs for FSW, before deciding to move on to another college in the fall. After all of the pain the shooting brought their family, both Jacob and his brother, Jacoby, held onto their love for baseball.