SportStars Magazine

Dublin Volleyball’s Brooke Lohuis: Touched By Tragedy

Brooke Lohuis, Dublin Volleyball

Last November, Brooke Lohuis Transferred to Dublin High from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida — It Was A Move That May Have Saved Her Life, And Changed Her Future •

“I was in a group chat with my family, when my sister texted that there were shots fired at my old school,” says the 17-year-old Dublin High School senior volleyball player.

Brooke Lohuis, Dublin Volleyball

Brooke Lohuis smiles while wearing an #MSDStrong shirt on the Dublin High campus on Oct. 16. (Photos by Chace Bryson)

The moment still reverberates for Lohuis. The former student at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who moved to the Bay Area just a few months before, was immediately on the phone to anyone she could find at her former school. It wasn’t easy. Most students were busy trying to stay alive during one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

Former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, now 20 and in jail awaiting trial, killed 17 people and wounded another 17 during what media outlets have dubbed the “Valentine’s Day Massacre.” The tragedy surpassed the Columbine shootings in 1999 as the deadliest high school shooting in American history.

Just five days before, Lohuis sat in one of the classrooms Cruz tore apart with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

“I was visiting over the weekend and was at the school the Friday before,” says Lohuis, sitting at a table after school in the Dublin High quad. “My sister said the news reported shots fired at Stoneman Douglas. Normally, you see those things and you think ‘Oh, nothing happened.’ But even just that freaked me out, because I didn’t know what was going on.”

Lohuis started the 2017-2018 school year in Florida. The family moved to Dublin in November after her dad, Dirk, was transferred to the Bay Area for his job running corporate events. Memories of her friends were fresh, as she’d just finished her first visit back since the move.

 

“The shootings happened on a Wednesday,” Lohuis says. “I spent half the previous Friday in Ms. Reoven’s room.”

Psychology teacher Ronit Reoven watched Cruz shoot one of her students to death and wound three others. She told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel “I’m playing the what-ifs, and it’s killing me, because there was nothing we could do. We were sitting ducks. We were vulnerable.”

Lohuis, who knew many of the victims for nearly a decade (she was born in Southern California and moved to Florida in 2008), finally reached one of her friends on the phone. The girl was taking cover from bullets.

“I kept calling and I finally got through,” Lohuis says. “She had to whisper. She was in the building next to one (where there was shooting). 

Brooke Lohuis, Dublin Volleyball“I felt guilty, even though I wasn’t there. What if I was still in that classroom?”

The 17-year-old — who lived through flooding and part of her family’s roof being torn off during Hurricane Irma the previous year — knew many of the victims. Among them was the athletic director, Chris Hixon. Hixon was a Persian Gulf War veteran who, according to the Miami Herald, tried disarming Cruz. 

Another friend, Luke Hoyer, was the son of Lohuis’ mom’s best friend.

“I got in Brooke’s car and on her dash was, and still is, a memorial card for Luke,” says Kate Lohuis. “I texted a picture of her dash to Luke’s mom, Gena. Because I wanted her to know that Luke really is with us every day.”

The Lohuis family also mourned security guard and assistant football coach Aaron Feis, with whom Lohuis and her older sister were friendly. Feis, who drove the volleyball team’s bus to away games, died trying to keep students safe.

“He went to close the door of the building, to try to protect people,” says Lohuis, who went back to the school for homecoming earlier this fall. “Another good friend got shot in the leg.”

Lohuis spent the rest of that awful Valentine’s Day in the school’s counseling office, trying to figure out which friends were alive, while crying on the shoulder of a new friend who left class to console her.

“What I went through was hard, and I wasn’t there,” she says, holding a maroon “#MSDstrong” T-shirt. “I can’t imagine …” 

Brooke Lohuis, Dublin Volleyball

Lohuis hugs close friend and teammate Colette Florentin a few hours before both honored as part of Dublin Volleyball’s Senior Night.

Kate was part of an eight-person group text, six of whom were MSD parents. Once she made contact, she noticed someone was missing.

“We had one friend who was not checking in,” she says, “and I knew that (her son) was gone. I got a text about 11 p.m. California time from a friend. He was one of the first (victims).”

“You definitely have some survivor’s guilt,” says Kate. “We were, what, two months out from living there? Your first thought is ‘I’m glad we weren’t there.’”

Brooke is adjusting. She works with special needs students at Dublin High and says she really likes the Bay Area.

“Last year was hard,” Lohuis says. “After (the shootings) I really wanted to move back. But this community has been so accepting.”

Sitting with her is teammate Colette Florentin, 17, a fellow transfer student with whom Lohuis quickly bonded.

“She’s been a great friend to me, and has made such a difference,” Florentin says. “She’s really passionate about being involved and is always trying to make things better for everyone.”

In the months after the shootings, Lohuis watched her former schoolmates become famous advocating for gun laws while appearing on the cover of newspapers, magazines and profiled on shows like “60 Minutes.” 

She’s friends with Jackie Corin, whom Vanity Fair described as the catalyst behind the school’s March for Our Lives movement. The students have spent much of the time since the shootings on a multi-state bus tour, and confronting politicians over the need for stricter gun control laws. She was one of four students appearing on the cover of TIME magazine.

“I went to her Sweet 16 party, and went out with her all the time,” says Lohuis, who spent two weeks back in Parkland last summer. “I was in (student) leadership with her.”  

Brooke Lohuis, Dublin Volleyball, Stoneman Douglas

Stoneman Douglas students Jackie Corin, left, and Emma Gonzalez at the announcement of a multi-state bus tour promoting stronger gun laws. (Photo: Taimy Alvarez/TNS via ZUMA Wire)

Being that she’s only part of the way through her first — and last — full year at Dublin High, life would’ve already been different for Lohuis had the shooting never happened.

Now, her whole future may have changed.

“One hundred percent. It just makes me think more when politicians say things, whether they’re going to carry it out. The ‘thoughts and prayers’ cliché,” she says, shaking her head. “It’s crazy.” 

Lohuis won’t be old enough to vote until March. She was initially interested in business or marketing as a college major (she also wants to go somewhere she can continue her volleyball career). Now she wants to major in political science and doesn’t rule out running for office someday.

“As ‘March for Our Lives’ is showing, you don’t even have to graduate to make a difference,” says Lohuis. “You never realize how bad it is until it affects you.”

Volleyball coach Ami Schelin says Lohuis has been “fighting through a knee injury all season. It’s been hard on her, but she has been hanging in there, giving the team everything she can.”

Schelin can see her player taking the political path.

“She seems to weigh all sides of a conversation when you’re talking to her,” she says. “You can see her mind working.” 

That likely won’t change anytime soon.

“I just want to make a change with people who can’t get their voices heard, whether it’s working on campus or a campaign, or actually being a candidate,” says Lohuis. “I just want to do something.”

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