Survivors of US high school shooting take message abroad to Dubai

Students across the country planned to participate in walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Fla. (AP)
Updated 17 March 2018
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Survivors of US high school shooting take message abroad to Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Student survivors of the worst high school shooting in US history took their message abroad for the first time on Saturday, calling for greater gun safety measures and sharing with educational professionals from around the world their frightening experience.
The Feb. 14 attack in Florida killed 17 people, 14 of them students, becoming one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. The attack was carried out by a former student wielding an assault-style rifle who strode into one of the school buildings and opened fire.
"It's so important to be educated, and to be educated in a productive sense is to feel safe at school," Suzanna Barna, 17, said. "No child should ever have to go through what we did."
Barna and her classmates Kevin Trejos and Lewis Mizen, all seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., each wore a red ribbon representing the color of their school in honor of the victims as they talked about their experience and their push for stricter gun safety measures. They spoke in Dubai at the Global Education and Skills Forum that coincides with the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, awarded to one outstanding teacher from around the world each year.
Trejos, 18, described the ordeal as "scary" and said students were crying and trying to comfort one another as they hid inside a closet in a classroom for nearly two hours.
"We didn't know where the shooter was. We didn't know if he was coming to our classroom next," Trejos said.
"We need to improve school safety," he added, saying that the students are not trying to ban guns "because we understand it's practically impossible to do," but are working to limit the accessibility of guns to criminals or potential criminals.
Like other school shootings before it, the attack has renewed the national debate on gun control. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of students across the US walked out of their classrooms to demand action from lawmakers on gun violence and school safety.
President Donald Trump and some gun supporters say the solution is to put more guns in the hands of trained school staff — including teachers. The student survivors speaking in Dubai strongly disagree, saying more guns is not the answer.
Mizen, 17, said protocols shouldn't be preparing schools for when shootings happen, but should be stopping them before they happen.
"Teachers are there to educate their students. They shouldn't have to serve as the first line of defense between them and a rampant gunman on campus," Mizen said, eliciting applause from the audience packed with educators.
Mizen said that addressing the global forum in Dubai was as a chance to talk to world education leaders and stress the importance of safety in schools.
"If we can get the international body on our side then that will make it so much easier to make change back at home," he told The Associated Press.
Barna said that despite the sharp political divide over gun control in the United States, all can agree that schools and children should be safe. She is calling for laws that would limit access to high-capacity magazine firearms, like the AR-15 assault-style rifle used by the shooter in Florida.
Students are next planning a "March for Our Lives" rally in Washington Mar. 24. Since the shooting, they have taken trips to the U.S. capital and the Florida capital of Tallahassee to confront lawmakers. In response, some major US retailers have put curbs on the sale of assault-style rifles and will no longer sell firearms to people younger than 21.
The Florida shooting was the latest in an era of school massacres that began with a shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 13 people. The country's deadliest school shooting killed 20 children in first grade and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
"We've had to grow up a lot," Barna told the AP. "Emotionally it's been tough to deal with the loss we have to see every day, but we're also in the process of getting back to normal. It will happen eventually, but it's going to take time."


Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

Updated 31 min 15 sec ago
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Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

BANGKOK: Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.
Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.
It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.
Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee — also known as Nadia Summergirl — did nothing wrong.
“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”
The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid on Saturday.
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.
“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media on Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.
Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference — such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin — have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.
Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.
“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.
The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.
The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”
In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.
“I was volunteering for the project promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.
“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”
Asked his next step, he was more optimistic.
“I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said.