(PARKLAND, Fla.) — Holding hands with their parents and wearing T-shirts reading “MSD Strong,” thousands of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stepped foot on campus Sunday for the first time since a teen gunman attacked the school and killed 17 of their classmates and staff members.
As a gate was opened to allow them in, parents hugged their children, some with tears in their eyes and many expressing apprehension about returning to the Parkland, Florida, school they ran for their lives from during the Feb. 14 massacre.
Officials invited all students and parents to return to the school this afternoon for an orientation in which they met with teachers and administrators to discuss plans for resuming classes on Wednesday. Counselors were on hand to help students and parents cope with being back at the scene of the horror.
Media were not allowed inside the school. But cell phone video, shot by a student and obtained by ABC News, shows dozens of students and adults milling about in the school cafeteria.
The building where the shooting occurred, Building 12, will not be reopened. School officials have proposed tearing down the three-story building and turning the space into a memorial park in honor of the victims.
One parent, Howard Krooks, said he is worried about and his 15-year-old son, Noah, going back to school. He said Noah was in the building where the shooting broke out, in a classroom directly across the hall from where 14-year-old Alex Schachter was gunned down.
“I’m sending him back on Wednesday with no progression on gun control, no progression on school safety,” the emotional father told ABC News. “So he’s going into the same situation that he was on the 14th. Nothing is different. And what choice do we have? What am I going to do, send him to another school? The same thing can happen there.”
Noah said being back on campus brought back memories of the horror he and his classmates endured during the Valentine’s Day mass shooting — allegedly carried out by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school.
“It was hard seeing the scene where it happened,” Noah told ABC News.
His father, in tears, hugged Noah, saying, “My son is stronger than I am. I am learning so much about how to handle this kind of stuff from my 15-year-old son.”
Student Michelle Dittmeier said the orientation and being reunited with her friends helped her find some normalcy in what has been a chaotic two weeks.
“That’s definitely what’s keeping me, like, OK, and not from breaking down,” Michelle told ABC News outside the school. “I have all my friends here with me and it just makes me feel like I’m not alone in this situation.”
She added that since the attack, the first thing she does when she’s in a public place is to look for where the emergency exits are.
“I’ve just been looking for emergency exits so I know where to go,” she said.
Anticipating going back to school, Michelle said, “I’ve been apprehensive about the whole thing. I was just here and, like, people I know have died here and it’s just hard.”
She added, “I just want to feel safe again.”
Her father, Michael Dittmeier, said he believed the orientation was the first step in making the children feel safe again.
“I think it’s a good show that we’re family, we’re one,” he said.
Student Seth Kline told ABC News he was concerned about the first fire drill the school will eventually conduct after classes resume, recalling how the fire alarms sounded and drew students into the halls just as the gunman opened fire.
“To come back to where everything occurred is just scary,” Seth said. “I don’t know in the future what I’m going to do during the fire drill… Something is going to have to be done with procedures and stuff like that.”
Seth’s father, Bill Klein, expressed pride in how his son and his classmates have responded to the tragedy, with many publicly expressing demands for better gun control and school safety.
“The kids have been amazing,” Klein said. “But it’s good to just get back on campus and try to move on. We support them 100 percent.”
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