PARKLAND, Fla. — About 50 uniformed officers marched into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School early Wednesday, just one aspect of the heavy security as classes resumed for the first time since 17 students and teachers were killed by a troubled teenager with an AR-15, thrusting them into the center of the nation’s gun debate.
The heavily armed police presence, designed to make the community feel secure, is also disturbing in itself, some students said.
“This is a picture of education in fear in this country. The NRA wants more people just like this, with that exact firearm to scare more people and sell more guns,” said David Hogg, who has become a leading voice in the students’ movement to control assault weapons.
“I know one of those bullets could be shredding through me if I was misidentified as a school shooter.”
Grief counselors are on campus as well “to provide a lot of love, a lot of understanding” and help students “ease back” into their school routines, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said.
Volunteers passed out cookies and brownies to students. The students were also greeted by therapy animals including a donkey and two horses. One of the horses had “eagle pride” written on it.
Backpacks were not allowed.
Wednesday’s class schedule started with fourth period, so students and teachers could return to the people they were with during the shooting.
The freshman building where the massacre took place remains cordoned off.
Casey Sherman, a 17-year-old junior, thinks the schedule was a good idea so kids can “get it over with,” and not worry about it all day.
Up until 11:30 p.m. working on preparations for the March 14 national school walkout against gun violence, she said she’s not afraid to be returning, “just nervous.”
“We did go through a tragedy,” said Sherman, who walked in holding hands with her boyfriend. “It was terrible but if you let it stop you … it’s not how you go down, it’s how you get back up.”
A long line of cars circled the school and dozens of television trucks and vehicles were camped out nearby as students, parents and staff were ushered through a security cordon, past a “Welcome Eagles” banner and a walkway lined with flowers, photographs and other memorials.
Some were returning despite severe gun wounds, but even those who weren’t hit by bullets spoke of emotional trauma.
Alexis Grogan, a 15-year-old sophomore, planned to wear a Stoneman Douglas color — maroon — on the first day back to class Wednesday, plus sneakers that say “MSD Strong, be positive, be passionate, be proud to be an eagle” and “2/14/18” in honor of those who died.
She feels nervous, like it might be too soon to go on as usual without slain friends like Luke Hoyer, who sat two seats behind her in Spanish.
Still, the support from her fellow students, and their fight to strengthen gun control laws have buoyed her spirits.
“I am so proud of how the kids at my school have been fighting because we all want change to happen and, as we see the progression, it really shows us that people do care and they do hear what we have to say,” Grogan said in a text message.