(CBS) Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo spoke Monday after returning from Parkland, Florida and visiting with survivors of the deadly school shooting at his alma mater.
Seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland were killed last Wednesday by former student Nikolas Cruz. It was the deadliest school shooting in five years in the U.S.
After learning about the news of the shooting at his alma mater, Rizzo posted a tweet reading, “Parkland and Coral Springs please stay strong! This is out of control and our country is in desperate need for change. I hope In this darkest of times back home this brings everyone together and we can find love. You’re all in my prayers.”
Rizzo left training camp shortly after the news with the support of the Cubs.
“He needs to be there to comfort people,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told WBBM Newsradio’s George Ofman. “He can stay there as long as he wants. I think given who Anthony is as a person, it would have shocked me if he would have not wanted to go back. And obviously he has the team’s full support.”
Rizzo has since returned and spoke publicly Monday about his time spent back in Parkland.
He said he had to go home because he felt “helpless” while in Arizona and away from home.
“That’s where I grew up in Parkland,” Rizzo said. “I got in trouble there. I succeeded there. I learned how to be who I am because of Parkland. So to be across the country and not be there and then to find out some very close people have lost loved ones to be there, to help them, to support them was very important to me.”
Rizzo acknowledged how much the shooting impacted him and his family.
“It impacted my family in a lot of ways,” Rizzo said. “I know of a few different people who unfortunately lost their lives. You just need to be there for people in these times. There’s really nothing you can say, nothing you can do, but just be there and show that you care for them and you are there for them.
“As much as I want to say I know how it feels for them, I don’t. I didn’t lose anyone that was direct family, but I feel like I did because I am from there.”
After being back in the community and facing those who lost family members and friends, Rizzo said it was “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
“Just going back, you just don’t know what to say,” Rizzo said.
“When people get shot, you are grateful they are alive. When they pass away, you are grateful that you knew them — to look at the bright side of things, if you can. Just to see how real it is, it’s sad.”
Both Rizzo and his brother played baseball for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He remembered coach Aaron Feis, who was one of the 17 shot and killed. He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot.
“Every single one of my best friends in high school, we all have memories of coach Feis,” Rizzo said. “For him to lay his life down and save kids, just shows the type of person he is… he’s a true hero.
“He has a monster coming in, shooting up a school and he jumps in front of kids and saves their lives and it’s just sad. I hope he continues to be recognized for that.”
Rizzo said the Parkland community is going to turn this tragedy into something really positive.
“I’m really proud of how everyone’s coming together,” Rizzo said. “Obviously I said there needs to be change. I don’t know what the change needs to be, but I’m just really proud of those kids and how they are coming together. They have become one in Parkland and it is really inspiring to see. It makes me proud.”
Rizzo believes the students who survived the mass shooting are going to speak up and have a voice.
“They are not just going to sit back and be another statistic,” Rizzo said. “They want to create change. I can’t even sit up here with confidence and say hopefully this is going to be the last mass shooting, because it probably won’t be, but hopefully this is one of the steps in the right direction.”
While in Parkland, Rizzo met with families who lost loved ones, visited victims in the hospital and spent time with family and friends.
“I’m happy I went home,” he said. “I’m happy I was there, happy I got to speak to the community. I’m happy with just the way the community is. It’s tough times.”