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.
President Donald Trump called the occasion as ‘somber anniversary’ and vowed to ‘recommit to ensuring the safety of all Americans,’ while 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.
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Victoria Gonzalez and Liam Kiernan, both of whom are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, comfort each other on Thursday as they remember those lost during a mass shooting at the school in Parkland, Florida a year ago
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
Kul Bhushan Mody and his wife Kiran Bala Mody pray outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Thursday
Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of Scott Beigel, a geography teacher and cross country coach who was killed in last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, becomes emotional while speaking to the media about her son
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 (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.’
President Donald Trump also weighed in, writing: ‘On this somber anniversary, we honor their memory and recommit to ensuring the safety of all Americans, especially our Nation’s children.’
Friends and loved ones of the victims took the opportunity to share memories that they will forever cherish.
Tori Gonzalez, 18, told the New York Times of her boyfriend, Joaquin Oliver, known as Guac, who was killed in the shooting just months before he was expected to graduate.
‘I’m wearing his sweatshirt. I wear it all the time. I’m going to sound really cheesy, but from the moment we met I knew I was going to spend my life with him,’ she said. ‘Last year I was very sick at this time, and Joaquin was like, ‘I really hope you feel better by Valentine’s Day.’ That day was the first day I went back to school. I’m really glad that I saw him that morning. That morning was probably the best day that we had together.’
Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver, read a letter he says his son wrote for a class assignment when he was 12 years old, in 2013, pleading for background checks. ‘My son was fighting for this way before me,’ he said.
Parkland victims remembered: The 14 students and three teachers who died on February 14, 2018
Jaime Guttenberg, 14, (left) was described by relatives as a ‘kind-hearted, sweet’ girl. Senior Nicholas Dworet (right) was a gifted swimmer who had his sights set on 2020 Tokyo Olympics success. His devastated college student girlfriend is among those grieving his death. Friends said he was not just a talented athlete, but a ‘good guy’ who will be missed
Martin Duque, 14, (left) was a freshman. Meadow Pollack, 18, (right) was preparing for college
Cara Loughran, 14, (left) loved Irish dancing and the beach. Alyssa Alhadeff, 15, (right) was eulogized by her mother who said she was a talented soccer player and creative mind. ‘All she had to offer the world was love… I just sent her to school and she was shot and killed’
Luke Hoyer (left), 15, was described as a ‘precious’ child by his grandparents, who said he was a ‘good kid’ who ‘never got in trouble’. Joaquin Oliver, 17, (right), was a Venezuelan immigrant who came to the US with his family for a ‘better future’
Gina Montalto, 15, (left) was described as a ‘light and joy’. She volunteered at a local project called The Friendship Initiative as a buddy for children with special needs. Alaina Petty, 14, (right) was also killed. Her Mormon church said she was a ‘valiant’ member
Carmen Schentrup, 16, (left) was a gifted student who last year was named as a semifinalist in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program. ROTC student Peter Wang, 15, (right) also died. Students said that Peter held the door open for others while they fled
Alex Schachter, 14, (left) was described by his father Max as a ‘sweetheart of a child’ who ‘just wanted to do well and please his parents’. Helena Ramsey, 17, (right) was described by relatives as a ‘reserved’ and studious girl who was due to go to college next year
Geography Scott Beigel, 35, (left) was shot dead as he tried to lock the door of his classroom again after letting a group of fleeing students in to hide. They were running away from the gunman. Athletic director Chris Hixon, 49, (right) was also killed shielding students
Aaron Feis, 37, (center) died acting as a human shield. The track coach had thrown himself on top of the kids to stop the bullets from hitting him. He was a former student and was also a security guard at the school where he had worked for eight years
For many Parkland students, the tragedy was still so raw they couldn’t bring themselves to set foot in the building.
Fewer than 300 of the 3,200 students at the high school showed up for what was only a half-day, with classes cut short so that the teenagers would not be there around 2:20 p.m., the traumatic moment last year when gunfire erupted.
Senior Spencer Bloom skipped school to spend the day with students from the history class he was in during the shooting. He said he struggles with panic attacks and feared he might have one if he went in to school.
‘There’s all this emotion and it’s all being concentrated back on one day,’ Bloom said.
A moment of silence was observed there and at other schools across Florida and beyond at 10:17 a.m., a time selected to denote the 17 slain.
Reporters were not allowed inside the school, but students packed lunches for poor children in Haiti as part of a number of volunteer projects undertaken to try to make something good come out of the tragedy.
Freshman Jayden Jaus, 14, said the moment of silence was ‘a bit emotional and a little intense’ as the principal read the victims’ names over the public address system.
Devon Fuller puts a plant in the ground at a garden setup in memory of those lost during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
Sergio Rosenblat hugs Melaina Plough at a makeshift memorial in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Bouquets are placed at a memorial on campus on the one year anniversary of the shooting which claimed 17 lives
Attendees at several events to honor of the 17 that were killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year, hug as they gather on Thursday at Trails End Park in Parkland
Around the country: Other schools commemorate the solemn anniversary of Parkland shooting
Seventeen empty desks sit on the lawn in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Sherborn, Massachusetts on Thursday as a memorial to those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
T-shirts mourning teen victims of gun violence decorate a fence in front of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School on Thursday, in Bethesda, Maryland. The memorial comes on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Students walk past T-shirts mourning teen victims of gun violence are seen on a fence in front of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
Students in Boardman, Ohio clap for police as Sumo, a Boardman police K-9, walks the halls with first responders after a lockdown drill Thursday. Some students around the country marked the anniversary of the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, with moments of silence Thursday or somber vigils while others sought to find threads of positivity in the fabric of tragedy
In New York City, a ‘wall of Demand’ mural and video message created by Manuel Oliver, father of Parkland victim Joaquin Oliver, is seen shortly after its unveiling on the one year anniversary of the mass shooting
Emma Gonzalez, a gun control activist and survivor of the the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, speaks at a press conference in New York City on the one year anniversary of the mass shooting
Sophomore Julia Brighton, who suffered nightmares for months after the gunman killed three people in her classroom, placed flowers at the memorial outdoors instead of going inside and ‘putting myself through that.’
Alexis Grogan, a junior, said she was spending 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.’
Victims’ families said they would spend the day quietly, visiting their loved ones’ graves or participating in low-key events like a community walk.
Lori Alhadeff posted an open letter to her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa, who died in the shooting. Alhadeff remembered how Alyssa didn’t want to go to school because she didn’t have a Valentine. But when she dropped her daughter off, she put a pair of diamond earrings in Alyssa’s ears and gave her a chocolate bar to make her smile.
They told each other, ‘I love you,’ and Alhadeff watched Alyssa walk away in a black and white dress and white sneakers: ‘Your long, dark hair dangled. Your makeup looked just right.’
‘The last time I saw you alive,’ wrote Alhadeff, who was elected to the Broward County school board after the shooting on a platform pushing campus safety.
‘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 Republican 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.’
Police officers guard the entrance of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Thursday
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
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
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.
Maverick is covered in kisses as people pet him while visiting a memorial setup near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in memory of those lost during a mass shooting at the school
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
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.
People visit the ‘Temple of Time’ in Coral Springs on Thursday. The Temple of the Time was built by the artist David Best to pay tribute to victims of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Artist David Best plans to burn down the temple in May in a ‘purification’ ceremony in honor of the victims
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.