Students wary, hopeful, on return to site of Florida school shooting
PARKLAND, Fla. (FOX 13) - As students return to school Wednesday morning, the walkway leading onto the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is lined with flowers and photographs, memorials to the 17 students and teachers killed in a Valentine's Day massacre.
A large law enforcement presence arrived early Wednesday morning, before any staff, faculty or students. Red and blue lights from the Broward County Sheriff's Office and other surrounding agencies outlined the campus and continuously flickered before sunrise. As the morning progressed, a long line of cars bringing people back to school were guided by police.
About 3,000 students are expected to return. They will have a modified schedule the rest of this week, with half days starting at 7:40 a.m. and ending at 11:40 a.m. The building where the shooting happened, the Freshman Building, was sealed off and no students will be allowed inside. Parents, students, and members in the community have called for the building to be demolished.
Grief counselors will be available, as well as additional teachers to replace those who are not ready to return to the school.
One teacher, Jeff Foster, spoke to FOX 13 during Good Day Tampa Bay and says he is taking in former colleagues' class, which belonged to one of the 17 victims, Scott Beigel.
"We're here for their emotional state," he tells FOX 13's Russell Rhodes. "We're feeling, literally, one minute at a time. We're expecting a lot of hugs, hopefully some smiles. I assume there are going to be some kids who are going to come to school damaged."
Foster said he hopes they can eventually return to discussing curriculumn, but that is not the focus, just yet. He explained the stages of grief have "accelerated," but the community remains strong.
"My students -- I teach government -- are living the curriculum right now," he said. "They are strong kids. They are intelligent kids, articulate kids. We've gotten so much support, not just from our community, but all over the world. We're not going to disappoint them."
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Principal Ty Thompson tweeted words of encouragement on Tuesday.
"Looking forward to tomorrow Eagles! Remember our focus is on emotional readiness and comfort not curriculum: so there is no need for backpacks. Come ready to start the healing process and #RECLAIMTHENEST"
Outside the school on Tuesday, people tied poems to the chain-link fence surrounding the school, and dropped off red, heart-shaped balloons. The building where the shooting occurred was cordoned off, and people signed photographs of the fallen. The main entrance had a sign that read, "Welcome Back Eagles."
Members of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association handed carnations out to students throughout the morning.
For Madison Geller, Wednesday offered an opportunity to get back into a routine, in spite of her fears.
"When I walk in there, I'm going to replay the whole thing in my head. But we have to come here and try to learn," the high school junior said. "This week we will try to be comfortable and get back into the same routine."
Angelyse Perez, a senior, said returning offers a chance for everyone to "get through this and be together."
"But I'm graduating," she said. "I just want to get out of here."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.