- 11:40 a.m. update: Students were released from class after serving a half day at school two weeks after a mass shooter killed 17 students and staff.
Their first day back was less about learning and more about healing. Therapy dogs were brought to class, officers handed out carnations and horses showed up.
Connor Dietrich, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior, says students and teachers have become family to get through the tragedy.
“I’ve made friends I will have the rest of my life,” Dietrich said.
- Original story: Hundreds of officers handed out carnations, forming a reassuring welcoming tunnel as thousands of students returned for the first day of classes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday morning, exactly two weeks after a shooting that killed 17 students and faculty members.
“I’m just glad that we’re trying to get it back together and show that we’re not going to be broken from these events,” said Ashley Chai-Onn, a freshman. “We’re going to grow. We’re going to learn and we’re going to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
- As the sun rose Wednesday morning, traffic backed up for blocks around the campus for a half-day of regrouping following the shooting. Students had been told to leave books and backpacks at home, because this was to be a day of healing more than learning.
- No one had to remind Ryan Petty. He lost his daughter, 14-year-old freshman Alaina, in the massacre, yet he stood on Coral Ridge Drive as the sun rose, greeting kids about to cross the street and enter the campus.
“It’s difficult for them to come back to this place where they know some of their friends died and there was such trauma and such tragedy,” Petty said. “However, I think it’s good that they’re here together. I think the healing starts when they get together and they get to talk about what happened and they get to share memories of their friends who aren’t joining them today.”
Neighbors and other supporters lined the street leading to the school entrance, many exchanging hugs with students as they arrived. Police repeated the words “welcome back” over and over with each set of students streaming in. One student went down the line, seemingly determined to shake hands with each officer.
- Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, Meadow, a Douglas senior, in the shooting, was especially grateful to see so many officers.
“I’m happy to see all the support, all the police out here showing support for the kids,” Pollack said. “I’m focused on a mission. I’m going to be in Tallahassee Friday and Saturday to make sure this bill (to protect schools) gets passed. The whole state of Florida needs to focus on getting this bill passed to make sure this never happens again.”
- Pollack said he had been speaking to an officer Tuesday who asked for his business card.
“I go, ‘I don’t have a card. What should I have on the card? The murdered kid’s parent?’ ” Pollack said. “And he goes, ‘No. You know what your card should be? It should be the last one.’ That’s my mission — I’m the last one.”
Two supporters brought horses with “Eagles Pride” painted on their sides. Chai-Onn jumped out of the car she’d been riding in to pet a support donkey who started to nibble on her purse.
“We did feed them breakfast this morning,” she was told by the donkey’s owner.
- Police surprised the students with thousands of flowers to be passed out as they entered the campus. Officers came from Pembroke Pines, Plantation and Sunrise, among other municipalities, to back those from Parkland, Coral Springs and the Broward Sheriff’s Office in a show of force.
“Wow,” Chai-Onn said. “I didn’t realize we had that many police. I love that they’re all taking our protection seriously now.”
- Students will not go back to the building where the mass shooting took place. It will be torn down and replaced with a memorial.
The Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie wrote on Twitter this morning: “I pray that today is the beginning of our long and difficult journey from grief, sorrow and anger to a new consciousness of hope, compassion and love. Thank you to our young people for leading the way. Welcome Back!”
- Meanwhile, Florida’s House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday voted 23-6 to approve a bill that would create a “school marshal” program which would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons on school campuses after completing hundreds of hours of training by a sheriff’s office.
>> On PalmBeachPost.com: Douglas kids come back to school; try to resume normalcy