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Students wary, hopeful, on return to site of Florida school shooting

17 shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland

PARKLAND, Fla. – Students returning to the Florida high school where a gunman killed 17 people are both wary and hopeful.

They are nervous about going back Wednesday to the rooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where so much blood was shed.

But they are determined to honor their fallen classmates and teachers by continuing their fight for gun control and other measures to make schools safer.

Sidney Fischer was in one of the classrooms where police say 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire on Feb. 14.

Fischer is planning on wearing swim goggles when he enters the school Wednesday to honor his friend Nicholas Dworet, who was an accomplished swimmer.

Fischer says he knows there will be heavy security, but he has "this sort of looming thought that someone will try to perform another shooting."

Anxious

The night before resuming school, Isabel Barry played her guitar to calm her nerves. The thought of going back to school was reassuring in some ways.

"It's going to be weird going to all my classes and maybe not seeing people there," Barry said. "I have a friend who was in one of my classes ... and now she's not gonna be there anymore. It's gonna be really really sad."

Despite the anxiety, she said, it will be comforting to return to the one place where everyone is bound by a similar experience.

"We all had that moment of realization of what truly matters," she said.

To get over her fears, she was having "a virtual sleepover" with her friend Garrity on Tuesday night. They left their phone videos on as they slept through the night.

They both didn't want to be alone. Since the shooting, sleeping in the dark scares them.

Flowers on empty desks

The students will be walking into a school filled with grief counselors, comfort dogs and reminders of the tragedy all around them. For Hannah Karcinell, one of those reminders will be on the "MSD Strong" shirt she'll have on.

Karcinell is part of a campus group that has been exchanging messages on how to get through the difficult days ahead.

While they don't have many answers, she said the reunion will include lots of hugs.

"We're all just talking about going back and seeing our teachers and hugging them, just hugging our classmates and just being together with everyone," she said.

Karcinell said the students who were killed will be on their minds, and they plan to place flowers on their empty desks.

'A little bit of normal'

Broward County officials planned the school's opening in phases, with teachers and staff returning to work Monday and Tuesday, and classes resuming Wednesday. This week, the classes will be held for four hours, between 7:40 a.m. and 11:40 a.m.

"I'm happy to be going back in a sense because it's going to be a little bit of normal that we can have again," said Ashley Paseltiner, 16.

"We've all been getting through this together. Just trying to be there for each other. The people you were with in that moment are really the only ones who can fully understand what we went through."

Building 12, where most of the carnage occurred, remains closed. Some have called for it to be demolished and a memorial built in its place.

A date for razing the building will be decided later. For now, it's considered a crime scene, said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools.

The students' return will focus on emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum, so there's no need for backpacks this week, Principal Ty Thompson said.

Security will be at "all-time high" when students return to campus, he said.

Barry welcomes the added security, but said it might not make much of a difference.

"There's going to be lots of security, which kinds of feels helpful," she said. "But I don't know how helpful it can possibly be because those guns killed my classmates. I don't think anyone will ever change that feeling of being unsafe on campus."

Demand for gun reform

Lina Crisostomo's SATs are coming up soon, but college test preparation has taken a backseat to funerals, vigils and walkouts.

She's been channeling grief into fighting the gun lobby since the shooting, along with other students at the school. The student-led movement made gains no one predicted, not even the students. Now, with classes resuming, Crisostomo and others worry about losing momentum.

"Homework doesn't really seem that important now," she said last week. "My attention has changed to fighting for these 17 lives."

With the last day of the state's legislative session set for March 9, the clock is ticking for lawmakers to make changes following the shooting.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced on Tuesday a $500 million investment in school safety, including metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks.

In Washington, the push for new regulation and significantly strengthened background checks appeared to lose political momentum.

President Donald Trump is set to meet with lawmakers Wednesday, the White House said.