Community honors Stoneman Douglas High shooting victims at memorials

CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. (WSVN) - The Broward County community gathered for a series of vigils, Thursday, to honor the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Hundreds of children, teens and adults gathered at Parkridge Church Thursday to honor the 17 victims killed in Wednesday’s shooting.

“I’m just glad that I’m safe and unharmed,” said Courtney Salter as she wept. “But my friends, some of their friends passed, but they’ll be OK too.”

Among the crowd were students who ran for their lives when they heard the gunshots.

“When I heard the gunshots, I ran off campus, I jumped fences and I ran away,” said student Maddie Schulter.

Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera and other elected officials were also on hand for the vigil.

The Church has a direct tie to the high school. The church used the school auditorium when they were first beginning their ministries.

Many church members also have children that go to the school.

The church brought out service dogs to provide comfort for members, along with attempting to create a general atmosphere of healing.

Additional prayer vigils also took place Thursday at the Parkland Amphitheater — one at 2:30 p.m. and another at 6 p.m.

Thousands of people packed the lawn outside the amphitheater for the evening vigil.

People laid flowers and lit candles at the feet of 17 angels on the stage, meant to symbolize the 17 victims killed in the shooting.

Student Josh Mallis was one of those at the early evening vigil. “Missing my friends. They’re not here anymore because someone decided to murder them,” he said.

Mallis remembered one friend and victim in particular, Alaina Petty. “Her brother saved my life,” he said, tearing up. “He asked me to help him with JROTC stuff, so I left the freshman building 20 minutes before the shots started.”

Milan Parodie described how when she first heard the gunshots, she thought she had been mistaken.

“I heard the gunshots and everyone was silent, and I was like, ‘That was definitely gunshots,'” she said. “Nobody believed me, and that was like, ‘We have to go, we have to move.'”

Another student spoke at the evening vigil. “My home away from home was attacked brutally and tragically,” she said.

The father of victim Jamie Guttenberg also addressed the crowd at the evening vigil. “This is impossible. My girl, my 14-year-old baby,” he said, “and for those of you who know my Jamie, she was the life of the party, she was the energy in the room.”

Some students reunited with friends they hadn’t seen since the shooting.

“My friends are dead,” said one student at the vigil. “Peter, Martin — they’re dead, and those are my good friends.”

“This is our home, we go here everyday, and to take that sense of safety away from us is the scariest thing in the world,” said another student. “Nothing’s ever gonna be the same at school, ever.”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel also shared a message. “If you’re an elected official and you want to keep things the way they are and not do things differently, if you want to keep the gun laws as they are now, you will not get re-elected in Broward County,” he said.

On Friday, people continued to visit the Parkland Amphitheater memorial at Pine Trails Park.

Melissa Walker brought her daughter to the memorial site. “It’s very nice,” said her daughter. “They have like the 17 angels and all the candles and stuff.”

“It’s tangible. It’s not something that you see on TV, you know, from far away. This is right here,” said Walker, “and I just felt like I needed to be able to see it, to touch it, to feel everything that’s going on.”

Walker said the decision to bring her daughter to the memorial was easy, but the discussions have been more difficult.

“It’s hard as a parent to explain to your children when you send them to school that everything’s gonna be OK, you’re safe, everything’s fine because we can’t promise that to our children anymore,” said Walker.

“I decided that I should at least come here and visit, pay my respects,” said Desiree Harrington, who visited the memorial. “I feel sorry for the parents. Like they send their kids to school to be safe, and then they’re not coming back now.”

Joe Zevuloni, a father and someone who visited to also pay his respects, said he cannot imagine the pain families have gone through.

“This touches all of us,” said Zevuloni. “I’m a Broward County resident. I live 10 minutes from here. I’m a father, I have kids, and this hit very close to home, and I felt like I needed to do something.”

Zevuloni brought two flags — a U.S. and Israeli flag — along with a note from friends in Israel: “United we stand #ParklandStrong Blessings from your friends in Israel.”

“I think the pastor that did this, this is great,” said Zevuloni, “but I think there should be also something for the Jewish victims here, as well.”

Now, the community is working to heal and move past the tragedy together.

“It’s very touching to know that we have such a close-knit community here, that everybody cares so much,” said Zevuloni, “but what bothers me the most is only when times of trouble, everybody gets united,” said Zevuloni. “We should be united anyway, not just when something like this happens.”

Broward County Schools has set up a GoFundMe page to help collect funds for the victims of the shooting. To donate, click here.

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