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Rhode Island native in Florida describes tragedy in his community

[anvplayer video=”WPRI:1853331″]

PARKLAND, Fla. (WPRI) — A former member of the Eyewitness News family is sharing his perspective from the devastated community that has lost 17 people in a mass shooting.

Mark Economou is a native of Lincoln, Rhode Island and a former longtime employee and anchor at Eyewitness News. He now lives in Coral Springs, Florida, bordering Parkland. Families from both towns attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s something that you never think is going to happen in your community,” Economou said in an interview Thursday. “There’s plenty of folks we know here in the community that lost their kids.”

Economou’s daughter and son, ages 15 and 17, attend a charter school a mile away from Stoneman Douglas High. But many of their friends attend Stoneman.

“[Morgan’s] friend is 15 years old, and said she was running out just crunching on bullet shell casings,” Economou said.

His son Patrick actually drove to Stoneman Douglas right after getting out of the school, because he had lacrosse practice at the Stoneman field. It was around the same time the shots rang out inside the school.

“By the time I got a hold of him, he was already at the field over at Stoneman Douglas,” Economou said. He works as a public information office for Boca Raton Police, and knew about the shooting right away. “I said to him ‘ you need to get out of there.'”

Patrick drove away, all while first responders were rushing to the scene.

“Conceivably, he could’ve drove right by this guy as he was running the opposite way. That’s how close it was to everything that happened.”

Economou said Patrick ended up driving to a friend’s house, who lived right in the neighborhood where suspect Nikolas Cruz was ultimately captured by police.

Both of Economou’s children attended a candlelight vigil in Parkland on Thursday night. Economou said many of their friends are devastated, traumatized, and don’t know when they’ll be going back to school.

“How do you tell your kids that it’s okay?” Economou asked. “That it’s safe to go back to school? How do you say that? Because we don’t even know.”

Florida School Shooting: In-Depth Coverage » | Remembering the Victims » | Talking to Children about Tragedy » | How to React to an Active Shooter »

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