PARKLAND, FL — As 3,330 teenagers made their way along tree-lined Pine Island Road to their classrooms inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, they were no longer mere students. Exactly two weeks after the attack that took 17 of their classmates and faculty, these young adults have emerged from the surreal carnage as fierce survivors. They carry with them the love, admiration and prayers of all 50 states and every one of the world’s seven continents.
But in addition to the loss of their friends and adult mentors, the killer robbed Stoneman Douglas of its innocence and perhaps even the last vestiges of adolescence for the community’s next generation of doctors, lawyers and business people.
"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," explained Alexis Grogan, a 15-year-old sophomore as she prepared for her return to class.
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.
Family members of a Stoneman Douglas student carry signs of support. Photo by Paul Scicchitano
Grogan 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.
On Tuesday, relatives of the Stoneman Douglas victims kept up the pressure in Florida’s capital with emotional testimony during a legislative hearing to discuss passing a bill that would, among other things, raise the age limit to buy long guns from 18 to 21. Other Stoneman Douglas students traveled to Washington, D.C. this week and met with members of Congress, including Rep. Steve Scalise, who himself was shot by a gunman during a congressional baseball practice in June.
Police line the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to greet returning students and their families. Photo by Paul Scicchitano.
"Some of the things that they’ve been through are similar to some of the things that I’ve been through. It’s going to be a tough time for them," observed Scalise, the number three Republican in the House. "It already is. You know, this doesn’t go away. It’s something that me and the other members of the Congressional baseball team still talk a lot about — what we went through. I’m sure they as students are going to continue talking about what they went through. We did talk again about some policy, but mostly just about where we are right now."
The Florida bill also would create a program that allows teachers who receive law-enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, if also approved by the school district. The Broward school’s superintendent has spoken out firmly against that measure.
"I’m so glad that people are stepping forward and talking about it keeping it relevant … because it shouldn’t happen to anyone ever again," explained Douglas sophomore Charlotte Dixon, who said some of her friends are having a hard time returning to classes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Police officers greet returning Marjory Stoneman Douglas students on their first day back after the Valentine’s Day shooting that claimed 17 classmates and faculty members. Photo by Paul Scicchitano.