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Hearts are heavy, attendance is light at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

People+light+candles+for+a+makeshift+memorial+after+an+interfaith+ceremony+at+Pine+Trails+Park+in+Parkland%2C+Fla.%2C+to+remember+the+17+victims+killed+last+year+at+Marjory+Stoneman+Douglas+High+School%2C+on+Thursday%2C+Feb.+14%2C+2019.+
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Hearts are heavy, attendance is light at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

People light candles for a makeshift memorial after an interfaith ceremony at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., to remember the 17 victims killed last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

People light candles for a makeshift memorial after an interfaith ceremony at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., to remember the 17 victims killed last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS

People light candles for a makeshift memorial after an interfaith ceremony at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., to remember the 17 victims killed last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS

John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS

People light candles for a makeshift memorial after an interfaith ceremony at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., to remember the 17 victims killed last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

By Colleen Wright, Miami Herald

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Just like last year, it was a beautifully sunny, crisp Valentine’s Day in Parkland.

There were media trucks lined up like a train for half a mile. Students, parents, teachers held each other. They were still trying to make sense of why a former student would carry out the deadliest school shooting in Florida, forever changing their community.

Just like last year.

“I walk down the path today and it was just like reliving last year when we walked down the path,” recalled Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son Scott Beigel was a geography teacher and a victim in the tragedy. “This has to stop. I cannot bring Scott back.”

Schulman came to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday in memory of her son and to reflect on what has and hasn’t changed since 17 were killed and another 17 were injured. She was joined by alumni and former students who could stomach making the pilgrimage back to Stoneman Douglas.

For students still attending the school, a few hundred showed up in a school of more than 3,000 for the “Day of Service and Love,” a short day for students to serve breakfast to first responders and pack meals for undernourished children. Therapy dogs and counselors were on site for students and staff, as well as manicures, massages and healthy cooking demonstrations provided by the Broward County school district’s technical colleges. But many took advantage of the excused absence.

Keondre Edge had noticed fewer people coming to school in the days leading up to Thursday.

“It might be depressing for some, but for others, it may be an opportunity to help,” the 15-year-old freshman said.

Cesar Pantoja, a former Stoneman Douglas student who moved and now attends Miami Senior High, couldn’t be anywhere else Thursday. “I had to be here,” said Pantoja, a 17-year-old senior.

For guidance counselor Jerry Turmain, the anticipation leading up to the dreaded anniversary was worse than the day itself. It reminded him of the first day of this school year, which he said was more of a get-together than a school day.

“I wanted to be here,” he said. “I was here for the kids as much as I was here for the staff.”

But Turmain had a limit: “I do not wanna be anywhere near this place at 2:40 p.m.”

The school closed for the day at noon.

A day after Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a grand jury investigation to examine and review school safety measures in school districts across the state, with Broward County as the base operating area, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie held a media briefing outside Stoneman Douglas around 9:30 a.m. Runcie’s administration has been criticized for policies that led up to the shooting and how it handled the aftermath of the tragedy.

Runcie said he welcomed the grand jury investigation.

“I agree with what the governor did,” he said. “I think it’ll be a good step for districts across the state.”

Runcie also confirmed that attendance was low at Stoneman Douglas.

“Every day it is a constant challenge and struggle, a lot of post-traumatic stress here,” he said. “For some it’s like the incident occurred yesterday.”

Schulman, the mother of Scott Beigel who was among those killed, pleaded for stricter gun control measures.

“I’m here because I really would like everybody to understand that today never really had to happen,” she said. “Nothing’s going to get done unless we do it.”

Kyle Kashuv, a former Stoneman Douglas student who became a right-wing activist following the shooting, came to pay his respects. He said it felt like security measures hadn’t changed at the school a year later.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal.”

Stoneman Douglas crossing guard Wendy Behrend said she knew some of the students who were murdered.

“It doesn’t feel good,” she said. “I wish I didn’t have to be here and coming up this road, seeing all the media again, it just brought it all back for me. It just was a horrible day that is going to be burned in our minds forever.

“I don’t think that there will be a lot of children here today but we are here for the ones that are,” Behrend added.

Victoria Gonzalez sat quietly on a bench in front of the memorial garden she created with Advanced Placement psychology teacher Ronit Reoven. Visitors adorned it with more flowers, candles and mementos.

Her boyfriend was Joaquin Oliver who also died that day. She came to school to serve breakfast to her father, a first responder.

“Today’s just been confusing,” said Gonzalez, an 18-year-old senior. “I guess that’s somehow normal for the circumstances. I don’t know, it’s been a lot.”

An interfaith ceremony for the community to honor the victims was to be held at Pine Trails Park in Parkland at 5:45 p.m.

Shortly before 9 a.m., DeSantis along with his wife Casey and several lawmakers and officials observed a moment of silence outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee, punctuated only by a small golden bell rung 17 times for each of the victims. Also in attendance was Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among those killed.

“This isn’t an anniversary. This is everyday life for every parent that loses their kid like I did,” he told reporters afterward. “We live it every single day … every single day is the same pain from when you wake up from when you go to sleep.”

He praised DeSantis for recent moves, including suspending former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and his announcement that he would petition for a grand jury to investigate failures surrounding the shooting: “I couldn’t be more pleased.”

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Hearts are heavy, attendance is light at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School