One year later: Remembering Parkland victims

Posted at 8:26 AM, Feb 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-14 10:26:46-05
Memorial for Parkland, FL shooting victims (CNN)

PARKLAND, Fla. – Thursday marks one year since the shooting at  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.

Seventeen people were killed, 17 others injured, and an indefinite number of people scarred for life.

The communities and families haunted by the tragedy will spend the anniversary quietly remembering the 14 students and three staff members who lost their lives.

Victims’ families say they will mourn out of the public eye, visiting graves, packing meals for the needy, and contributing to other service projects.

The Parkland school will have a half-day Thursday. Stoneman Douglas students will serve breakfast to first responders and will be dismissed nearly three hours before the time the shooting began at around 2:20 p.m.

Many students are skipping school Thursday. For some it’s too emotional, others don’t want to be in the spotlight.

The families

Parkland Fl victims
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students mourning the loss of their friends, classmates, and loved ones (NBC)

For the victims’ families, there is not a day that goes by they are not grieving, but Thursday cuts a little deeper.

The families remain outspoken in their demand that school Superintendent Robert Runcie be fired and against the reinstatement of suspended Sheriff Scott Israel, saying their inaction and mistakes allowed the shooting to happen.

Jaime Guttenburg’s family plans to visit her grave while Nick Dworet’s will go to the beach where his ashes were scattered in the ocean. Athletic Director Chris Hixon’s family is preparing for a race in his honor on Saturday.

“We are going to simply reflect and remember. That is the best thing,” Tony Montalto, president of the victims’ families’ organization, Stand With Parkland, said.

Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed in the shooting.

The school

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students being evacuated Feb. 14th, 2018 (NBC)

Besides giving back to their community, Stoneman Douglas students can choose to receive mental health counseling and visit therapy dogs. Volunteers will provide massages and manicures.

Security will be stricter at the school and throughout the district. Maintenance workers will be kept out of Broward schools to avoid banging and loud noises that might upset students and teachers.

Alexis Grogan, a junior, said she’ll spend the day picking up trash at the beach, dedicating her work to those who died.

“I survived something and I don’t want to waste what I call a second chance at life because those who have passed don’t get that,” she said. “We have to make a difference for them.”

The temple

Parkland temple
Wooden temple in Coral Springs, FL to help the Parkland community heal (CNN)

San Fransico-area artist David Best started building temples to honor the dead in 2000 at Nevada’s Burning Man festival after a protege died in a motorcycle accident.

Since then, he has built temples worldwide, including in Northern Ireland for those killed in political strife and in Nepal for the 2015 earthquake victims. Like those structures, the Stoneman Douglas temple will be burned.

This creation, “The Temple of Time,” represents the indefinite period it will take for the community to come to terms with the slayings.

“The initial reaction (people have) is, ‘This is really crazy, why are you burning this? It is really beautiful.’ But at the end of the period it usually makes sense to everyone,” Paul Walker, a volunteer, said. “The fire is very therapeutic.”

The trial

Nikolas Cruz
Nikolas Cruz, charged with first-degree murder in 2018 Parkland, Fl high school shooting (NBC)

Exactly one year later and the case against 20-year-old Nikolas Cruz is still in the pretrial discovery stage, a long way from trial according to the Broward public defender.

The question is not whether he is guilty or not- he’s confessed on video. It’s does he live or die?

Cruz’s defense team has offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole- only if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table.

Prosecutors rejected the plea deal.

If the case goes to trial, Cruz, who is charged with first-degree murder, will join a short list of mass shooters who have faced their victims in court. Of the 10 deadliest shootings in recent U.S. history, Cruz is the only one who was captured alive.

A death penalty case can take years to go to trial and is a lengthy process that involves three stages.

There is the current pretrial stage where discovery is conducted, the guilt phase, where the trial is conducted, and if convicted as charged, the penalty phase where a jury determines a sentence, according to Richard Hornsby, a criminal defense lawyer in Florida.

“However, with the judge pushing the case hard and the passage of Marsy’s Law last fall, I would not be surprised if this case makes it to trial early next fall,” Hornsby said.

Marsy’s Law expanded the rights of victims of crimes, including giving them the right to have a voice in prosecution issues.

Some Stoneman Douglas students have mixed feelings about the possibility of a death penalty trial for their former classmate.

Student leader Emma Gonzalez described Cruz’s potential death penalty trial as a “good” thing.

Another student said he wants him to “rot forever” in prison instead.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was one of the 17 people murdered, has said he does not plan to attend any death trial hearings.

“I don’t want to go through some lengthy trial that’s going to be brutal. I want him to sit in a cell and rot for the rest of his life,” Pollack said.

Florida’s death penalty law requires a unanimous jury decision. If even one of the 12 jurors dissents, the defendant must be sentenced to life without parole.

(The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report)