(PARKLAND, Fla.) — Students are returning to class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday for the first time since the mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida, school that killed 17 people and sent shockwaves across the nation.
One student told ABC News that he’s “not mentally ready yet” to return to class after the Valentine’s Day shooting that killed his best friend, while another student said she’s happy to get back “to come together to grieve.”
There was a massive presence of police officers and first responders at the campus. All off-duty law enforcement in the area was asked by the police union to offer its support to the students and staff.
When sophomore Leni Steinhardt arrived at school, she told Good Morning America that she “has a pit in my stomach knowing what happened here.”
“I’m definitely eager to hug my friends and thank the teachers who saved my life that day,” Steinhardt added. “It’s heartbreaking to know that, sadly, 17 people aren’t going to get the chance to do that.”
The suspected gunman — former student Nikolas Cruz, 19 — allegedly fled after the shooting, but was apprehended later that afternoon.
In the days that followed the massacre, Stoneman Douglas survivors not only attended funerals for the slain students and staff, but also took political action, rallying together to create a turning point in the national debate over gun control.
Teenagers made a trip to Tallahassee, the Florida state capital; spoke with President Donald Trump at the White House; and organized a March on Washington for March 24 called “March for Our Lives.”
On Friday, staff members were allowed to return to school for the first time.
Then, on Sunday, students and parents were permitted to come back to campus for an orientation in which they met with teachers and administrators to discuss plans for resuming classes.
At the school, parents hugged their children, some with tears in their eyes. Counselors were on hand to help students and parents cope with being back at the scene of the horror.
Stoneman Douglas senior Julien Decoste lost his best friend, Joaquin Oliver, in the shooting, and told ABC News on Tuesday that he hadn’t decided if he will go to school on Wednesday.
Decoste, 18, said he just isn’t ready, calling it “too emotionally tough” to see the building where Oliver was killed.
Decoste said his parents think he should go back “to show strength.”
“I know Joaquin would want me to go to finish my high school year,” he said. “But I’m not mentally ready yet.”
Student Carmen Lo, whose close friend Carmen Schentrup died in the shooting, told ABC News on Tuesday, “I’m actually happy to go back to school.”
“I think it is in our best interests for us to come together to grieve,” Lo said. “We’re going back as a united school, ready to make change on behalf of the 17 lives and other schools across the country.”
“The one fear I do have is having to come to terms with the fact that there will always be that empty desk because our friends are no longer alive,” she said. “However, we want the world to know that we will not let this event break us and we will come back stronger. We will not tolerate inaction, because students should not need to be afraid to attend school.”
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