PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – One year after the Valentine’s Day massacre inside a Florida school, students and families leading a nationwide push for school and gun safety paused on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the deadliest U.S. high school shooting.
School buses brought only a handful of students to a shortened class day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.
A moment of silence and community service activities took place at local schools as students honored the victims by wrapping palm trees with their names and pictures and laying flowers at the base.
As night fell, scores of people filled a park for a prayer vigil, led by a group of about a dozen clergy members from all faiths, who focused on unity, love and compassion in the name of those who died in the shooting a year ago.
“As men and women of faith, we stand with you Parkland, painful Parkland, profound Parkland, powerful Parkland,” said David Hughes, the lead pastor at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs. “In the name of a living God, we say together never, never, never, never again.”
Leaders of March for Our Lives, a national student movement formed in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy to fight gun violence, were not in the spotlight, having noted they would “go dark” or cease most communications during the anniversary.
Still, an emotional Emma Gonzalez, who helped to organize the movement, described at a news conference in New York the never-ending battle with trauma faced by survivors of mass shootings like the one in Parkland.
“Every day it feels like the shooting is happening again, or happened yesterday, or will happen tomorrow,” said Gonzalez, who rose to prominence by urging her fellow students to “call B.S.” on supporters of the gun lobby.
From Washington to Florida’s state capital Tallahassee, elected leaders from both parties vowed to work to prevent another catastrophe. Republican President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the anniversary was a time to “recommit to ensuring the safety of all Americans, especially our nation’s children.”
Democrats used the occasion to call for greater gun control, introducing legislation in states such as North Carolina and Colorado, while the party’s leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives pledged to advance stronger background check requirements to buy firearms.
“Why have we not been able to stop this from happening?” asked Jared Moskowitz, a former Democratic state legislator from the Parkland area, now heading the Florida Division of Emergency Management. He spoke alongside a 35-foot (11-meter) memorial to the shooting victims erected at a public arts display in Coral Springs, near Parkland.
A former student is accused of opening fire with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle inside a freshman classroom building. He has offered to plead guilty if prosecutors do not seek the death penalty, but no such agreement has been reached.
Many families of the dead and many student activists prefer not to mention his name. Instead, they have focused attention on a gun violence epidemic that killed nearly 40,000 Americans in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over half were self-inflicted.
As he planned a cemetery visit to mark his 14-year-old daughter’s death, Fred Guttenberg recalled on Twitter how a year ago he sent two children to school – and only one came home.
“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 said.
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Additional reporting and writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker