Therapy horses and puppies, as well as law enforcement officers and members of the community, gathered around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Wednesday morning to welcome students on their first day back since the shooting that killed 17 students and faculty two weeks earlier.
“Welcome back. How are you feeling?” Deputy Bernard Hilson asked, as he hugged students before they crossed the street to enter the school.
Students responded that they felt better and thanked him for being there.
In the background, a group from the Vine Church of Margate sang the folk song “This Little Light of Mine” to show support.
“We're just here to encourage the students," said Bruna Biffani, one of the singers. "I believe that everything is going to be OK."
Families walked to the entrance holding hands and embracing each other.
"It's a very important day for our family," said Luis Eduardo Girao, who walked with his wife and two children, who are students at the high school. "We ... hope that [the] United States with these teenagers could change the laws about guns. No more guns, no more guns."
As the last bell of the day rang out, Deputy Hilson was still in the crosswalk to high-five as many students as he could on their way out.
Shortly after the school day was over, Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie stood before members of the media to talk about how the day went.
“We saw a really great turnout at school today,” Runcie said. “We had an attendance of 3,123 students. That’s about 170 short of what we would normally have. So that’s an attendance rate today of about 95 percent. I thought that was outstanding.”
And there was plenty of extra security.
Between 200 and 300 police officers were on campus, according to Runcie. He also said that going forward there will be increased law enforcement presence indefinitely, but not as much as Wednesday.
“I continue to implore our state Legislature, which is considering legislation now, to provide funding for additional school resource officers and security personnel in each school,” Runcie said.
Douglas freshman Brandon Travinski said he felt safe Wednesday, and he called his first day back in class a “regroup day.”
“You’re trying to get things back to normal, but you know, I had classes in that freshman building,” Brandon said. “So obviously some of my classes moved around and now I’m in like totally different classrooms on the other side of the school.”
Now his Spanish class is in the culinary classroom, but Brandon says, that’s OK with him.
“It’s never going to be the same again ... but, you know, it’s a fresh start,” he said.