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Parkland one year on: Students pause to commemorate the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre a year ago renewed the national debate on guns and school safety, turned some victims’ parents and surviving students into political activists and at least temporarily ended the local sheriff’s career.

Former President Barack Obama even praised the students’ gun-control activism in a tweet, saying ‘I’m proud of all of them.’ 

But Thursday’s anniversary will primarily be about remembering the 14 students and three staff members who died in the third high-profile mass shooting in Florida since 2016. 

Many Stoneman Douglas students arrived on campus Thursday wearing headphones and the burgundy #MSDStrong T-shirts that have become an emblem of the tragedy.

Outside the school, angel stakes for each of the 17 victims bordered the school’s landscaped sign. While absenteeism was expected to be high Thursday, freshman Matthew Sabia said he attended to show support and participate in activities.

‘I want to show respect to what happened. The students who were here are probably sad and don’t want to think too much about it. We don’t really talk about it,’ he said.

Classes were almost over last Valentine’s Day when authorities say a 19-year-old former student arrived on campus and began shooting.   

Suzanne Devine Clark, an art teacher at Deerfield Beach Elementary School, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting on Thursday

Cheryl Rothenberg embraces her daughters Emma and Sophia as they view a memorial on the one year anniversary of the shooting which claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

Cheryl Rothenberg embraces her daughters Emma and Sophia as they view a memorial on the one year anniversary of the shooting which claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida

A plaque for Jaime Guttenberg, one of the victims of the Parkland school shooting is shown at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the shooting

A plaque for Jaime Guttenberg, one of the victims of the Parkland school shooting is shown at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the shooting

Margate Fire Rescue Community Emergency Response Team member Peter Palmer wipes his eyes while looking at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting, Thursday

Kara Cannizzaro crosses herself after pausing at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting, Thursday

Margate Fire Rescue Community Emergency Response Team member Peter Palmer (left) wipes his eyes while looking at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as Kara Cannizzaro (right) crosses herself at the site

Jogger Kara Cannizzaro stopped Thursday morning to pray at the memorial outside the school. She says ‘every single person of the community has been affected by this.’

Students also will perform service projects and observe a moment of silence and a non-denominational, temporary temple will open in neighboring Coral Springs for people to pay their respects. The structure will later be burned in a purification ceremony. Security throughout the community and at schools will be high.

Obama joined in on the memorials with a tweet reading: ‘In the year since their friends were killed, the students of Parkland refused to settle for the way things are and marched, organized, and pushed for the way things should be – helping pass meaningful new gun violence laws in states across the country. I’m proud of all of them.’

‘We don’t need (the anniversary) to remind us what happened. We live with it every day,’ said businessman Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow died in the attack. 

He met with President Donald Trump at the White House after the shooting and became an adviser to Governor Ron DeSantis and his predecessor, Rick Scott. 

Other fathers like Fred Guttenberg and Manuel Oliver have become active in Democratic politics.

David Hogg has struggled with his grief while emerging as a prominent student activist who co-founded the March for Our Lives movement.

‘We can’t move on from this, when it’s something that never should have happened,’ he told reporters this week, saying he planned to spend the day quietly with family. ‘You can’t move on from your sister constantly crying, every day, because she doesn’t have her four best friends anymore.’

After his 14-year-old son, Alex, was shot dead in English class, Max Schachter left his work in insurance to focus on school safety. As the first anniversary approached, with his wife and other children still processing their loss, he noted there is no blueprint for getting through challenging days of mourning.

‘To me, it’s just another day that I don’t have my little boy. Every day is hard,’ he said. ‘It’s horrible. No one ever thinks that they’re going to send their kid off to school and then they not come home.’ 

Students arrive to school on the one year anniversary of the shooting which claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Students arrive to school on the one year anniversary of the shooting which claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Students walk to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting on Thursday

Students walk to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting on Thursday

Sandy Pohl (left) and Tom Gilmartin, both school crossing guards at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, pay their respects at a memorial set up for those killed a year ago in Parkland,  Florida

Sandy Pohl (left) and Tom Gilmartin, both school crossing guards at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, pay their respects at a memorial set up for those killed a year ago in Parkland, Florida

Wendy Behrend, a school crossing guard who was on duty one year ago when a shooter opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, pays her respects at a memorial  for those killed

Wendy Behrend, a school crossing guard who was on duty one year ago when a shooter opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, pays her respects at a memorial for those killed

People visit a makeshift memorial in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Thursday

People visit a makeshift memorial in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Thursday

Victims’ relatives from both sides of the political aisle helped lead the successful push to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. 

DeSantis suspended the Democratic sheriff last month, citing incompetence in his handling of the shooting. Israel is fighting the suspension in the state Senate and says he will try to win back the office in next year’s election.

The massacre also led some Stoneman Douglas students to form the group ‘March for Our Lives,’ which holds rallies nationwide calling for tougher gun regulations and toured the country registering young adults to vote.

‘It was the kids themselves that made Parkland an unusual shooting,’ said Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law and gun rights expert. 

Just in Florida, 49 people died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and five died at Fort Lauderdale’s airport in 2017. 

There have been other notable mass shootings across the country during that period – at a Las Vegas concert, a Pittsburgh synagogue and a Texas high school. But none resonated politically like Stoneman Douglas.

‘What we haven’t seen is a mobilization of the students in quite the same way,’ Winkler said.

A volunteer with a therapy dog arrives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting. Volunteers will also offer massages and manicures to students stressed by the memorial

A volunteer with a therapy dog arrives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting. Volunteers will also offer massages and manicures to students stressed by the memorial

People visit a makeshift memorial in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Thursday

People visit a makeshift memorial in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Thursday

Painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are shown during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. A year ago on Thursday, 14 students and three staff members were killed

Painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are shown during the one-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. A year ago on Thursday, 14 students and three staff members were killed

But Thursday will be mostly a day to push aside politics. Victims’ families who have spoken publicly say they will spend the day quietly, visiting their loved one’s grave or participating in low-key events like a community walk.

‘We are going to simply reflect and remember,’ said Tony Montalto, president of the victims’ families’ organization, Stand With Parkland. ‘That is the best thing.’ Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter Gina died in the shooting.

At Stoneman Douglas, students will mark the tragedy by working on service projects. They also can receive mental health counseling and visit therapy dogs. Volunteers will provide massages and manicures.

Mickey Pope, the district’s chief of student-support services, said the staff worked with mental health counselors, community groups, the victims’ families and others for four months to devise a plan they believe will honor those killed and allow students and staff to mourn.

Still, many Stoneman Douglas students are skipping school. For some it’s too emotional; others don’t want to be in the spotlight.

Alexis Grogan, a junior, said she’ll spend the day picking up beach trash, dedicating her work to those who died.

‘I survived something and I don’t want to waste what I call a second chance at life because those who have passed don’t get that,’ she said. ‘We have to make a difference for them.’

In Coral Springs, San Francisco-area artist David Best will open ‘The Temple of Time,’ which at 1,600 square feet represents the indefinite period it will take for the community to come to grips with the slayings. It’s an Asian design with a spire roof that has intricate designs cut into it.

California artist David Best talks about how he is building a non-denominational, temporary temple for the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting massacre, on February 5 in Coral Springs, Florida

California artist David Best talks about how he is building a non-denominational, temporary temple for the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting massacre, on February 5 in Coral Springs, Florida

Best rejected naming it ‘The Temple of Healing’ because he said that is impossible for the victims and their families. 

Since 2000, he has built such temples worldwide, including in Northern Ireland for those killed in political strife and in Nepal for the 2015 earthquake victims. 

Like those structures, the Stoneman Douglas temple will be burned along with whatever mementos, writings and art that mourners leave behind. That ceremony will happen in May.

Most construction materials and other expenses are being paid by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public arts foundation, but neither Best nor his workers are paid.

‘When the smoke goes up and the flames go up, it will have a great meaning,’ said volunteer Tony Bianco, an Army veteran and artist from Coral Gables.

Where are they now? Students, parents, officials and suspect one year after Parkland massacre

Students

DAVID HOGG: Hogg, 18, became the most prominent spokesman for March for Our Lives, a group he and other Stoneman Douglas students founded that is pushing for stronger gun laws. It won the International Children’s Peace Prize. His activism led to significant criticism, including death threats. He and his younger sister, Lauren, wrote a book, ‘#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line.’ He will be attending Harvard in the fall.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg of Parkland, Florida delivers remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington DC on January 24

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg of Parkland, Florida delivers remarks at the United States Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington DC on January 24

EMMA GONZALEZ: Gonzalez, 19, became known for her ‘We Call B.S.’ speech criticizing politicians who accept money from the National Rifle Association, which she gave days after the shooting during a Fort Lauderdale rally. She, David Hogg and other March for Our Lives founders were featured on the cover of Time magazine. They spent the summer as part of the ‘Road to Change’ tour, which registered young voters around the country. She is attending Florida’s New College. 

KYLE KASHUV: The Stoneman Douglas senior has become the most prominent conservative voice among the students, meeting with President Donald Trump, Republican members of Congress and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Kashuv was a member of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ transition team and is high school outreach director for Turning Point USA, a conservative group.

Parents

ANDREW POLLACK: Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow died in the shooting, became the most outspoken critic of school and law enforcement officials among the victims’ parents and a force in Florida conservative politics. He has met with Trump, and was on DeSantis’ transition team. He is pushing for the removal of Broward school Superintendent Robert Runcie and is suing suspect Nikolas Cruz, the Broward school district and sheriff’s office and former Broward sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, who was on duty at the school during the shooting but did not enter the building to confront the shooter.

FRED GUTTENBERG: Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed, has become an outspoken advocate for gun control and liberal causes. He drew national attention when he approached new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing and extended his hand, only to have Kavanaugh walk away. Guttenberg was part of the transition team for new state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide Democratic officeholder.

Fred Guttenberg, left, the father of Jamie Guttenberg, who was killed in the high school shooting in Parkland,  attempts to shake hands with Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing on September 4, 2018. Kavanaugh did not shake his hand

Fred Guttenberg, left, the father of Jamie Guttenberg, who was killed in the high school shooting in Parkland, attempts to shake hands with Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing on September 4, 2018. Kavanaugh did not shake his hand

RYAN PETTY: Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina died, was appointed to the state commission investigating the shooting’s causes. His comments tended to hit at police and school system failures he perceived. He lost a bid for the Broward County school board, but was also part of DeSantis’ transition team.

MAX SCHACHTER: Schacter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died, became the emotional voice of the parents as a member of the state commission and founder of the group, ‘Safe Schools for Alex.’ He has traveled extensively looking at school security systems.

LORI ALHADEFF: Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed, won a school board seat representing Parkland in August. She tried hiring a Runcie critic as her secretary, but the superintendent said the woman, a college instructor who holds a doctorate, was unqualified because she didn’t have related experience. Alhadeff has pushed Runcie to set a timeline for implementing school security projects.

TONY MONTALTO: Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed, is president of ‘Stand with Parkland,’ a group of parents and spouses of the victims. The group has pushed for enhanced school security measures, better mental health screening programs and universal background checks for gun purchases.

MANUEL OLIVER: Oliver, whose 17-year-old son Joaquin died, is an artist who has created projects honoring his son and condemning gun violence. He recently took on comic Louis CK, who mocked the victims during a December performance. At his website, changetheref.org, Oliver poses as a standup comedian and in the form of a joke he tells about dropping his son off the day he died. No one laughs.

Officials

ROBERT RUNCIE: The Broward County school superintendent remains in office over the objection of the victims’ families, as he has the backing of a majority of the nine-member school board. DeSantis has hinted he would like to suspend Runcie, but state law won’t allow it as Runcie is an appointed official, not elected.

SCOTT ISRAEL:  DeSantis suspended the Broward County sheriff on Jan. 11, saying he ‘repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership.’ Before the shooting, Israel had changed his department’s policy to say deputies ‘may’ confront shooters from ‘shall.’ Critics say that gave eight deputies an excuse for not confronting the gunman when they arrived during the shooting but stayed outside. Israel’s attorneys say he intends to challenge the suspension. He intends to run again next year.

Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, center, leaves a news conference surrounded by supporters after new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him on January 11, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, center, leaves a news conference surrounded by supporters after new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him on January 11, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale

SCOT PETERSON: Peterson, a longtime Broward sheriff’s deputy assigned to school, retired shortly after the shooting. Security video showed he drew his gun but did not enter the three-story freshman building where the killings took place. Instead, he took cover nearby and stayed there for about 50 minutes. In interviews with the ‘Today’ show and The Washington Post, he said he did not know where the shots were coming from. He was subpoenaed to testify before the state investigative commission, but invoked his Fifth Amendment right to silence after it was announced he is under criminal investigation. The commission concluded that he lied about not knowing the location of the shooter, and several members called him a coward. He is collecting a pension of more than $100,000 annually.

Suspect and Family 

NIKOLAS CRUZ: Cruz, 20, remains jailed in Broward County, charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder. His attorneys have said the former Stoneman Douglas student would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. No trial date has been set. In November, he was charged with attacking a jail guard who investigators say told him not to drag his sandals while walking. The guard fended off the attack, investigators said.

Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is escorted into the courtroom for a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on January 16. Cruz remains jailed in Broward County, charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder

Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz is escorted into the courtroom for a status hearing at the Broward Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on January 16. Cruz remains jailed in Broward County, charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder

ZACHARY CRUZ: The suspect’s 18-year-old brother pleaded no contest in March to trespassing at the school 33 days after the shooting. He was re-arrested weeks later for violating probation for driving without a license and for driving near a school, but was quickly released. He has moved to Virginia, and has shown up at some of his brother’s court hearings.

 

 

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