PARKLAND, FLA. (WSVN) - Volunteers have finished removing mementos left at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas memorial, and they have been taken to Florida Atlantic University for storage.
Volunteers took advantage of the Parkland school’s spring break to help collect and move the items outside of Stoneman Douglas High, the site of a mass shooting on Feb. 14 where 17 people lost their lives.
7News cameras captured volunteers as they placed plaques, stuffed animals and other mementos in cardboard boxes, Wednesday.
“There are so many people who wanted to come out to show their support and help, and we got through it a lot quicker than we’d anticipated,” said volunteer Golden Johansson.
Volunteers sorted through hundreds of objects left behind for each of the victims at the memorial, which stretched across the entire corner of Pine Island and Holmberg roads outside of the school.
“Trying to find a way to give back and to participate in healing,” said volunteer Lori Willis. “I’ve been searching for ways to get involved, and I thought this would be a good way to get involved.”
Johansson said this was an emotional endeavor. “A lot of the volunteers were crying as they were pulling apart the memorial, and it’s hard,” she said, “but we’re trying to do our best for them, and to keep their memory alive.”
“It was so moving to learn about them and their lives,” said volunteer Lynne Caggiano. “We just feel such sorrow.”
Hours later, cameras showed the empty chain-link fence and mound of earth where the massive memorial once stood.
The City of Parkland partnered with the Parkland Historical Society to store and preserve the items.
“We want this stuff to be here in 100 years, 150 years, so that people can look back and see not only what took place, unfortunately, but what was left behind by the community and the hearts and tears that were poured out,” said Parkland Historical Society President Jeff Schwartz.
Students are determined not to let those tears fall in vain. On the heels of Sunday’s March For Our Lives rallies, some are keeping the momentum going by launching 17ForChange.com.
The site promises to track lawmakers’ records on gun reform and other school safety issues. They’re also asking parents to sign a contract promising to use their vote to support the cause.
Wednesday afternoon, the boxes filled with items from the memorial were placed in a truck and taken to FAU, where the items will be placed in a climate controlled storage.
“They’re going to be storing the materials in climate-controlled areas, so that we can preserve the items,” said Parkland commissioner Ken Cutler. “We’re intending on picking up a conservator or archivist who will come in and know exactly how to deal with the materials.”
Preservationists will then catalog the items in hopes of placing them in a museum in the near future.
Students were among the volunteers who came to lend a helping hand.
Senior Chad Williams and his family decided to help on their day off. “When I heard they were taking it down, I just wanted to be a part, like, one last time,” he said.
Lauren Caggiano also worked on her spring break. “[We want] to make it better for the kids returning,” she said, “and I want them to feel safer, even though it might not be safer. I just want everyone to feel as happy as they can be.”
The cleanup and moving process had been planned before two people were arrested for stealing memorial items, including teddy bears, pictures, signed poster boards, a U.S. flag and pinwheels, Sunday night. The female suspect, identified as 40-year-old Kara O’Neil, bonded out of jail Wednesday night. Her alleged accomplice, identified as 37-year-old Michael Kennedy, remains behind bars on $1,000 bond.
With the memorial packed off, volunteers hope students can continue to heal without a daily reminder of their immense loss.
“I think some of them are ready to find somewhat of their own normalcy,” said Johansson.
“What happened should never be forgotten. These seventeen wonderful people should never be forgotten,” Lynne Caggiano said.
While the memorial has been removed, 17 heart-shaped flower beds have been planted across from the entrance to the school in honor of the victims.
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