Amid a steady stream of visitors who came to pay their respects to victims of the Parkland school shooting on the one-year anniversary, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, placed flowers at a memorial garden outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and said a silent prayer just before sundown Thursday.
DeSantis, who on Wednesday petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a grand jury to investigate any possible violations of state law by the Broward County School District, visited the school before he was scheduled to attend a 5:45 p.m. vigil at Pine Trails Park.
The park was the site of a tearful vigil held last February, with the tragedy still fresh in the minds of the community. Several hundred attendees gathered Thursday evening, and religious leaders from different faiths led the crowd in prayer and read aloud the names of the 17 victims.
Jessica Cummings, a 14-year-old freshman, was not yet attending Stoneman Douglas when the shooting happened, but she said it was important for her to show her support Thursday at the vigil.
“I love the school, but you can feel the sadness,” she said. “All the kids older than us have been really helpful.”
DeSantis joined some of the shooting victims’ loved ones at a gathering outside the Parkland school and added to a colorful display of flowers placed at the site throughout the day.
Seventeen pinwheels spun in the cool breeze. A statue of shooting victim Joaquin Oliver was carried to the memorial, and later taken to the vigil by his friends.
Deputies with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, whose leader DeSantis suspended for the department’s response to the Valentine’s Day shooting, stood guard outside the school and at the vigil.
Students and their parents held candles as an acoustic group sang a cover of the song “Dear Hate,” which was written after the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas.
Brooke Harrison, a 15-year-old sophomore at the school, said the vigil was uplifting and allowed her time to reflect on the tragedy that befell her classmates and teachers.
Harrison was inside Room 1216, the first that gunman Nikolas Cruz targeted during his rampage. Three students died there.
Harrison attended last year’s vigil. She said it felt reassuring that Thursday’s event was very well attended. It proved to her that Parkland is a family.
“It’s comforting that after a year, the same amount of people showed up,” she said.
-- by Martin Vassolo