Parkland students make emotional return to school campus
Liam Kiernan’s first stop when he reentered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time on Sunday afternoon was the band room.
The 15-year-old took his dad to the closet where he hid during the shooting.
“I walked in and showed him, that’s where I was,” Liam said.
Seeing the spot where his terrified son was while a gunman massacred 17 people in a nearby building was an emotional moment for David Kiernan.
“It was tough,” said Kiernan, 52, his voice breaking a little. “So tough.”
Father and son were among the hundreds of families that visited the Parkland campus for a “reunification” day on Sunday. Teachers, staff and counselors were on hand as students picked up the textbooks and backpacks they left behind as they fled during and after the Valentine’s Day shooting.
Janna Volz, 16, walked off campus in an #MSDStrong T-shirt with the backpack she retrieved slung over her shoulder. Her schedule is still uncertain because she had classes in the freshman building where the shooting occurred. The entire building is closed permanently, with plans being discussed to eventually tear it down and construct a memorial in its place.
Seeing her classmates was nice, Volz said, and she’s definitely ready to get back to school on Wednesday.
“Then again, it was still nerve-racking to be in there,” she said, nodding to the campus.
For Liam Kiernan, that initial fear was followed by a deep sense of support and love.
“I saw the teacher that saved my life and gave him a hug,” he said. “That was definitely a moment.”
Inside, there were therapy dogs and a long line of people waiting to hug the principal. Someone handed out strips of maroon ribbon and safety pins. Even the walls were decorated with messages of support and encouragement.
“There’s so many signs inside that building,” said Michael Goldfarb, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas parent. “There’s no room for any more.”
Goldfarb, 51, said that teachers hung all the posters and signs people from around the country sent to the school, including one he snapped a picture of — a message from Conestoga Middle School in Oregon declaring, “We Stand With You.”
He and his wife, Stella, said they feel comfortable sending their three high schoolers back to campus on Wednesday, but they worry that their kids might be overwhelmed with emotion when they settle in and see the empty seats of classmates who aren’t coming back.
Holly and Steve Golub, who visited campus with their 14-year-old son, have the same concern. Holly Golub said she’s been proud of how her son, Bradley, has handled himself. He meets with his friends every night so they can talk things out and support one another. But she worries that his hard-won peace could be challenged when he goes back to school.
“All of a sudden you’re back in that environment,” she said. “Does it change the way you handle it?”
For his part, Bradley said he’s looking forward to getting back to school and being with his friends, but he knows that not everyone will feel the same on the first day back.
“I’m going to go hug my friends and try to be supportive of people who aren’t handling it as well as I am,” he said.
Outside the chain link fence surrounding the campus, the memorial to the 17 victims was crowded with a steady stream of visitors dropping off fresh flowers, stuffed animals and notes. Some stopped by before or after visiting campus, and others came by just to offer a prayer or moment of silence. Almost everyone wore Marjory Stoneman Douglas branded clothing or maroon ribbons pinned to their chests.
Liam Kiernan, decked out in an MSD Strong T-shirt of his own, said the way the community has come together — and how his classmates have raised their voices for political action — makes him feel like the 17 people who died will be remembered.
“It gives me hope to see the once broken coming back together again,” he said. “That’s what they would have wanted.”