Students, parents and politicians marked the first anniversary of the Valentine's Day shooting at a Florida high school with somber tributes, prayers and calls for action.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and other schools across the US bowed their heads in a moment of silence and took part in volunteer projects Thursday to mark the anniversary of the shooting rampage that claimed 17 lives.
But for many Parkland students, the tragedy was still so raw they couldn't bring themselves to set foot in the building.
The massacre on Feb. 14, 2018 — Valentine's Day — inflamed the nation's debate over guns, turned some Parkland students into political activists and gave rise to some of the biggest youth demonstrations since the Vietnam era.
Outside, clear plastic figurines of angels were erected for each of the 14 students and three staff members killed.
Fewer than 300 of the 3,200 students at the high school showed up for what was only a half-day, with classes cut short so that the teenagers would not be there around 2:20 pm, the traumatic moment last year when gunfire erupted.
TRT World’s Sally Ayhan reports.
Senior Spencer Bloom skipped school to spend the day with students from the history class he was in during the shooting. He said he struggles with panic attacks and feared he might have one if he went to school.
"There's all this emotion and it's all being concentrated back on one day," Bloom said.
Many Stoneman Douglas students arrived wearing the burgundy #MSDStrong T-shirts that have become an emblem of the tragedy.
A moment of silence was observed there and at other schools across Florida and beyond at 10:17 am, a time selected to denote the 17 slain.
Reporters were not allowed inside the school, but students packed lunches for poor children in Haiti as part of a number of volunteer projects undertaken to try to make something good come out of the tragedy.
Grief counsellors and therapy dogs were made available along with massages and pedicures. An interfaith service occurred later in the day at a nearby park.
Freshman Jayden Jaus, 14, said the moment of silence was "a bit emotional and a little intense" as the principal read the victims' names over the public address system.
Sophomore Julia Brighton, who suffered nightmares for months after the gunman killed three people in her classroom, placed flowers at the memorial outdoors instead of going inside and "putting myself through that."
Victims' families said they would spend the day quietly, visiting their loved ones' graves or participating in low-key events like a community walk.
Victim Joaquin Oliver's girlfriend, senior Tori Gonzalez, organised a group of a dozen students and alumni to read poems to a large crowd outside the school in the late afternoon. They brought a life-size statue of Oliver, who was 17.
"My mind runs each and every route that could have saved your life," she read tearfully. "It wasn't Cupid shooting arrows of love — it was an AR-15."
More than a thousand people gathered in the evening at Pine Trails Park, about a mile from the school, for an interfaith service that opened with a video highlighting dozens of service projects launched in honour of the victims, including plantings at a beach to halt erosion, a campaign to help abandoned animals and the remodelling of a dance studio.
The former student accused of opening fire with an AR-15 assault rifle in the Parkland attack, Nikolas Cruz, now 20, is awaiting trial.
Crusaders against gun violence
Stoneman Douglas students have become crusaders against gun violence under the banner "March for Our Lives," lobbying for tougher gun control laws and organising protests and rallies.
But Emma Gonzalez, one of the leaders of March for Our Lives, said the movement will go offline and stay silent from Thursday through the weekend.
"Like so many others in our community, I'm going to spend that time giving my attention to friends and family and remembering those we lost," Gonzalez said.
"The 14th is a hard day to look back on. But looking at the movement we've built — the movement you created and the things we've already accomplished together — is incredibly healing," she said.
President Donald Trump vowed to ensure that US schools are safe, calling it a "top priority" and claiming that "tremendous strides" have already been made.
"Let us declare together, as Americans, that we will not rest until our schools are secure and our communities are safe," Trump said in a statement.
Much of the momentum for tighter gun laws has come from the grassroots lobbying efforts of the Stoneman Douglas students.
Miami Herald correspondent Alex Daugherty explains what has changed since the shootings.
According to the Giffords Law Center, legislators in 26 states and the nation's capital, Washington, passed 67 new gun safety laws in 2018.
In seven states, background checks for gun buyers were added or existing laws strengthened. Four states raised the minimum age to purchase firearms.