Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to class on Wednesday, two weeks after gunman Nikolas Cruz allegedly murdered 17 people—most of them teenagers—in the school’s freshman building. Welcoming the students back to Stoneman was an army of armed security officers, many of whom carried AR-15s, the same gun Cruz reportedly used during the February 14 attack.
Around 50 police officers were on hand for the first day back at Stoneman—an unmistakable show of force designed to leave no doubt for the returning students and their parents that they were being watched over.
“I feel safe — especially with that number of cops,” Stoneman junior Mackenzie Chapman said. “It’s crazy.”
But the irony of armed guards amassing at what’s become the latest flashpoint in America’s ongoing gun debate wasn’t lost on some of the students who have spent the weeks since the massacre speaking out against the National Rifle Association.
Speaking with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota as he entered the school, David Hogg—one of Parkland’s most outspoken anti-gun activists since the attack—insisted that the police presence was hardly a solution to America’s school violence problem.
“None of our glass is being replaced with bullet-proof glass,” he said. “None of our locks that are being replaced are able to be locked from the inside. No legislative action has been taken. All we have now is more guns and more chances for things to go wrong.”
For some students, the prospect of returning to Stoneman so soon after the attack was too much. But those who chose not to come back to class on Wednesday will not be penalized for missing school.
“Students that don’t show up, we’re going to reach out to them and see what we can do to help them,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Miami Herald.
“It’s not going to be your typical day,” Runcie added. “We’re going to try to accommodate students as much as possible understanding that they’re still grieving, they’re still dealing with trauma, so we’ve got to create space to be able to do that.”
That space is clearly welcome for some students.
“I’m a little bit nervous to see how different everything feels,” Stoneman senior Suzanna Barna told the Sun-Sentinal. “It’s going to take some time for me.”
To help with the transition back, Stoneman’s class schedule has been shortened to a four-hour day, with counselors and therapy dogs on site. And perhaps aware that an armed security presence is not necessarily the most welcoming of sights for students who’ve experienced an unimaginable gun-related trauma, Broward Police Benevolent Association Vice President Ron Skirvin was on hand to deliver flowers to the returning students.