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Parkland Community Remembers Shooting Victims on Anniversary

Sun Sentinel

Heavy hearts came together on Valentine's Day to remember the 17 souls erased one year ago in one of the worst school shootings ever.

It was a day of tears and sorrow, but also friendship, love and hope.

It was a day to stand #MSDStrong not only in Parkland, but throughout South Florida where tens of thousands gathered in schools, parks and workplaces to take part in special activities to commemorate the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.

The day of remembrance was capped by an evening of communal healing, inspiration and hope at Pine Trails Park about a mile from the school. An estimated 5,000 people turned out, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"I've been kind of dreading [today]," said Jacob Mays, a 15-year-old sophomore at Stoneman Douglas whose buddy since sixth grade, Luke Hoyer, was killed in the shooting.

To mark the day they'd rather forget, Mays and five friends "built their day around Luke," devoting it to the things their friend took delight in, namely basketball and chicken nuggets.

They took the day off from school, sported T-shirts that said "We march for Luke," played basketball on the courts at the Parkland Golf and Country Club and went to Chick-fil-a for lunch.

They brought the day to its close with a visit to their 15-year-old pal's grave in Pompano Beach, planting tulips in the memorial garden at the school and attendance at the evening vigil.

All in all, Mays said, "it hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. I'm sad but also happy to see all of this and everyone coming together."

The students and staff killed in their classrooms and hallways were Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Alexander Schachter, 14; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Peter Wang, 15.

They streamed to the park decked in burgundy, holding hands, clutching bouquets of sunflowers and white roses and wearing orange ribbons and T-shirts emblazoned with positivity.

"Together. Forward."
"Our Home. Our Family. Our Community."
"Together we can make a difference."
"Love in Action."
"Positive. Passionate. Proud."

A video played showcasing a brokenhearted community engaged in good deeds inspired by those lost.
"It's overwhelming," said one woman as tears ran down her face.

Candles flickered as darkness descended over the crowd.

Members of the clergy on stage preached about faith and love, loss and grief. Each had their own message, all meant to lift spirits, to inspire hope, to heal.

"A life can never end," said Rabbi Bradd Boxman. "It lives on in the hearts of those who love them forever."

Monique Kormos, whose son graduated from the Parkland school in 2012, was living in Washington, D.C., with her husband when the shooting happened. That day, they decided to move back, she said.
"This is where my heart is," she said as she burst into tears.

She and her husband huddled with friends under a tree for the interfaith ceremony.

When it ended, she said she wouldn't have missed it for the world.

"It's another testimony of everyone coming together, beyond color and race and creed. My wish is that we didn't need a tragedy to bring us together."

Alyssa Greco, 14, an eighth-grader at West Glades Middle School, said she'll attend Stoneman Douglas next year.

"I'm just remembering the lost lives," she said. "I guess I just have to know that it will be better and safer when I get there."

Jay Jurgens and his wife, Maria, brought their 6- and 7-year-old children to the park Thursday night. They attend Heron Heights Elementary and will one day go to Stoneman Douglas.

"It's raw," Jay Jurgens said of Thursday's exposed emotions, his eyes welling with tears.

"I wasn't prepared to have so much emotion all over again," Maria Jurgens said. "We don't know any of the victims personally, but we just felt drawn to be here."

The Jurgenses said they both felt pride in their community.

"The friends, the families and the community have come together to take a stand for each individual victim," Maria Jurgens said.

Through charitable organizations, scholarship funds and dedications "they're making sure that their loved ones live on in some way," she said.

Allison Fowner, 16, and a junior at Monarch High School in neighboring Coral Springs has had many friends over the years who attended Stoneman Douglas.

The hurt, she said, "it's always there. Today, it's just a little bit heavier than usual."

"And of course it makes us all sad that this keeps happening all over," she said.

About one in eight students—about 400 out of 3,300—showed up at the Parkland school Thursday, said broadcast journalism teacher Eric Garner.

"It's such a day of incredible mixed emotions," he said. "There's so much loss and so much strength that's happened since then. So many people, their lifetime mission has come out of this moment."

When classes resumed two weeks after the shooting last year, a heavy weight encompassed the school, Garner said.

"The weight has gotten less," he said. "But it's still there. We need the trial [of the shooter] to happen. We need the [freshman] building to be gone. We need policies put in place that are going to keep us safe. There's still a long way to go. But at least we're better than we were right after the shooting."

Superintendent Robert Runcie spoke to a gaggle of reporters outside the Parkland school, repeating a practice that became common in the first days after the shooting. He looked tired and his voice was weaker than usual.

He said he believes the community can heal by putting differences aside. "Although we mourn the lives that we lost through a horrific act of hate and anger, I also believe we must celebrate the possibilities of what can be through love and support," he said.

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