PARKLAND: Students, parents and politicians marked the first anniversary of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida high school Thursday with somber tributes, prayers and calls for action.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student killed 14 students and three staff members a year ago, cancelled classes for the day and offered counseling services instead.
A moment of silence was held at 10:15 am (1515 GMT) by the few students who turned up at the school in Parkland, Florida.
“It’s a hard day,” said Victoria Gonzalez, 18, standing next to a flower garden surrounded by 17 angels that she helped create to remember those who died.
“I lost my best friend,” Gonzalez said of Joaquin Oliver, 18, who was among those killed by a troubled ex-Stoneman Douglas student armed with a semi-automatic weapon.
Thousands of people later gathered in the Pine Trails Park for a brief interfaith service at which the names of the victims were read.
Many people wore red Marjory Stoneman Douglas shirts, while others wore shirts bearing the names of those killed in the shooting.
“Seeing all these people come out and care, it means a lot,” said Julia Brighton, a 16-year-old survivor who lost both of her best friends and a neighbor in the attack.
Parents of the victims took to Twitter to express their grief.
“Exactly one year ago, to the minute at around 7am, I sent two kids to school,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was among those killed.
“Only my son Jesse came home,” Guttenberg wrote. “I am forever haunted by my memory of that morning, rushing my kids out the door rather than getting one last minute.
“Did I say I love you?” he asked.
Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was killed, said he lost his “Princess Meadow” a year ago.
“Everyday hurts the same as the first,” Pollack said.
“Meadow, my life will never be the same without you, but I’ve been fighting everyday to make sure this never happens again,” he said.
Stoneman Douglas students have become crusaders against gun violence under the banner “March for Our Lives,” lobbying for tougher gun control laws and organizing protests and rallies.
But Emma Gonzalez, one of the leaders of March for Our Lives, said the movement will go offline and stay silent from Thursday through the weekend.
“Like so many others in our community, I’m going to spend that time giving my attention to friends and family, and remembering those we lost,” Gonzalez said.
“The 14th is a hard day to look back on. But looking at the movement we’ve built — the movement you created and the things we’ve already accomplished together — is incredibly healing,” she said.