Two Parkland Mothers in Emotional Picture Now Divided over Guns

12 February, 2019

It is an image that represents the pain and suffering of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida: two mothers crying and holding each other outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, as they wait for news from inside the school.

But the connection between the two women in the now-famous image has not lasted. They soon found themselves on opposite sides of the gun control debate, much like the rest of America.

The shorter woman with red hair is Cathi Rush. She was trying to find out whether her son, Brandon, survived the shooting, in which 17 people were killed.

Mechelle Boyle is the name of the tall woman with lighter hair. The black mark on her head is a reminder that the shooting took place on Ash Wednesday, a Christian holy day.

Boyle's three children did not go to the school and were safe.

But she told the Associated Press in a recent interview, "My heart just started breaking." She said, "Oh, my God, she [Cathi Rush] doesn't know if her son is alive or dead. She's here crying and can't reach him."

Brandon was not harmed in the shooting. But when the picture was taken, Rush was still waiting to hear from him again. He had sent her phone messages earlier telling her that he was hiding under a table.

When she had not heard from her son for nearly an hour, Rush fell to the ground. All around her were other crying parents and the sounds from emergency vehicles.

Boyle pulled Rush up from the ground and held her.

The image, taken by an Associated Press photographer, soon appeared on the front pages of newspapers and on broadcasts and websites around the world.

Rush said of the image, "In that moment it was just two moms comforting each other, scared for their kids. Not only for their kids, but their kids' friends, their kids' teachers."

Rush appeared on television news programs a few days after the shooting. She first said she hated the image and felt that the photographer had intruded on a private moment.

But Rush has since welcomed the image. She had the photo printed on clothes that her family wore to anti-gun protests. At the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, she and her family carried a huge banner with the image on it. She even made the image her main Facebook picture for a time.

Rush works as a school nurse. She wants to see stronger gun control laws. She attended a few meetings of the organization Moms Demand Action, which calls for more gun safety measures to protect people against gun violence.

After the shooting, Boyle turned down all interview requests from the media until now. She said she did not lose a child and did not feel she had anything to say.

In this Jan. 30, 2019, photo, Mechelle Boyle holds a newspaper with a photo from the school shooting showing her embracing Cathi Rush. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
In this Jan. 30, 2019, photo, Mechelle Boyle holds a newspaper with a photo from the school shooting showing her embracing Cathi Rush. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Boyle, too, attended some meetings with Moms Demand Action. She owns a gun and had served eight years in the military. She supports gun rights but has also worked to pass stronger gun control laws.

Boyle said it "made no sense" that the Parkland gunman was able to buy an AR-15 rifle at age 18.

"The terror that we felt — I see it on my face every time I look at the picture," Boyle said with tears in her eyes. "I don't ever want any parents to feel that."

Before the shooting, the two women were never especially close but always friendly. Their children had attended the same elementary school. And Rush's former husband trained Boyle's son in soccer.

A year after the shooting, the two women are no longer in contact. In fact, Rush refused to be interviewed with Boyle. Rush said she strongly disagrees with Boyle on gun control and politics.

Boyle said, "She was very upset at me because I was a little more pro-gun than her, and she wasn't very happy about that."

Rush said the shooting did not unite the community, as some have said or hoped. She said, "This community has fractured into two factions now."

Some people want to turn schools into "fortresses." They call for more security and for arming teachers with guns. Others, like Rush, want stronger gun control measures.

Rush said, "And they fight like you wouldn't believe on Facebook. It's gross. It's disgusting."

I'm Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Caty Weaver.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on an Associated Press article. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

photographer - n. a person who takes pictures, especially as a job

intrude - v. to become involved with something private in an annoying way

banner - n. a large strip of cloth with a design, picture, or writing on it

rifle - n. a gun that has a long barrel and that is held against your shoulder when you shoot it

tears - n. drops of liquid that comes from your eyes especially when you cry

interview - v. to question or talk with (someone) in order to get information or learn about that person

factions - n. group within a larger group that has different ideas and opinions than the rest of the group

fortress - n. a place that is protected against attack

gross - adj. rude or offensive

disgusting - adj. so bad, unfair, inappropriate, etc., that you feel annoyed and angry