Parents of Parkland, Fla., student bring bus tour to Encinitas to advocate for gun safety

Patricia and Manny Oliver at Swami’s Seaside Park in Encinitas on July 19.
(Luke Harold)

Manny and Patricia Oliver pulled into Swami’s Seaside Park in Encinitas on July 19 with a yellow school bus that read “Stop Gun Violence” on the side.

Their son, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was one of the 17 victims of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Manny told a small crowd of activists awaiting their arrival that Patricia had always wanted to get an RV and do a road trip across the country with the family. He preferred hotels.

About five years after Joaquin’s death, and marking his 23rd birthday, they felt the time was right to travel around the country with a “Guacathon crew” of young activists who continue to push for more gun safety measures in the U.S.

“We’re doing it now, not with our kids,” Manny said. “With great kids that inspire every single day. In this trip, we’re meeting with people just like us in every single city, and they understand why we cry, and they understand why our lives aren’t happy anymore. They want to raise their voices.”

One of those supporters, Stephan Abrams, is a national chapter coordinator for the advocacy group Team Enough.

“That’s what this tour is about, is supporting people across this country and coming to different places and hearing stories and raising awareness,” said Abrams, who is from San Diego. “That’s why I’m so excited they decided to come to my hometown of San Diego. They got to meet a lot of my friends, who have such amazing stories and are working so hard every single day to reduce and end the epidemic of gun violence, not only in San Diego but across the country.

After embarking from Parkland on July 3, Manny and Patricia have stopped in cities including Orlando, Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin. About a week ago, they were in Uvalde, Texas, where the community is still reeling from the 2022 school shooting at Robb Elementary that left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Patricia thanked supporters for their “strength and fight” throughout the bus tour, which will also include Columbine and Aurora, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Chicago and New York City, among other stops, before concluding in Charleston on Aug. 20.

She and Manny have been documenting their journey on the Instagram account of their nonprofit, Change the Ref.

“This is the best way we could celebrate his 23rd birthday that is about to come on Aug. 4,” Patricia said.