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Four years later, Parkland community gathers to honor victims of school shooting

Elliot Rodriguez
Hundreds of people gathered at Pine Trails Park to honor the victims of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

More than 300 people gathered Monday evening at Pine Trails Park in Parkland to honor the 17 people killed and the 17 others injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago.

For some victims’ loved ones, the loss is still fresh. Parents, friends, students and school staff came to the park to grieve and heal together — paying tribute to the victims with prayer and music.

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At the park, a wall of photos of the 17 people killed was lined with flowers. Nearby, friends and loved ones wrote notes to those who were lost. Therapy dogs wandered through the crowd, bringing joy to a somber occasion.

Kate Payne
Seventeen people were killed in the shooting. Four years later, some of their loved ones say the pain is still fresh.

Students from Coral Springs Middle School, Martinez Middle School in Tampa and Barclay Performing Arts sang the song “Shine”, an anthem of hope and resilience that was written by MSD students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña in the aftermath of the shooting.

“You’re not going to knock us down, we’ll get back up again,” the students sang. “We’re putting up a fight, you may have brought the dark but together we will shine a light.”

In the four years since that tragic day, MSD students launched a nationwide gun control effort that galvanized students, activists and lawmakers across the country. Kelley Taylor, a junior at the high school, says she hopes to one day be a part of the wave of activism pushing for school safety.

“I think that these kinds of events really inspire me to do that kind of activism in the future,” Taylor said. “But for now it’s about emotionally healing from such a traumatic event at such a young age.”

Kate Payne
During the memorial event on Monday, friends and loved ones wrote notes to each of the 17 victims.

In the four years since, those affected by the tragedy have tried to find a way forward in their lives — seeking comfort in music, in faith and in public service.

Cheryl White’s daughter Katrina was at Stoneman Douglas during the shooting and her younger daughter Isabel was at nearby Westglades Middle School. White says it’s still painful to pass by the school, where Isabel is now enrolled. Her family finds healing in gathering each year to remember the lives of those who were killed, and by doing some of the things that they loved best.

“We always go out and we do the beach yoga [in memory of Meadow Pollack]. We go and do the beach cleanup in memory of Gina [Montalto],” White said.

“Just being with our community. Because we all kind of understand. We get it ... That’s just part of the healing process — just to be around everybody.”

“It is a day of love and a day of service and a day to take time to those that are still here. And still remember those 17,” White added.

In the years since the shooting, Michelle Knobel and her dog Jax have turned to service as well, working with the group Canine Assisted Therapy. Her son was at Stoneman Douglas during the shooting.

“Canine Assisted Therapy was there every step of the way for Stoneman Douglas High School. The dogs were one of the main reasons why my son was able to stay in school and finish his senior year,” Knobel said. “Jax and I joined the program in order to give back.”

During the memorial service, a video played showing a photo montage of each of the victims who were killed. The images were a reminder of who they were, the lives they lived and all that they had before them.

Kate Payne
As the sun set at Pine Trails Park, hundreds of people raised glowsticks to shine a light in memory of the 17 people who were killed.

As in years past, clergy from Parkland, Coral Springs and across Broward County gathered for the interfaith ceremony, praying for the dead and for the survivors.

They said the names of each of the 17 who were killed, reading from the Bible and the Quran, and praying the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

“The Kaddish prayer says we will be the candle and the light to bring their energy and their spirit into the world,” said Rabbi Mendy Gutnick of Chabad of Parkland.

“And if today does nothing else, then let us resolve to take on some kind of good deed, some extra way that we can continue the legacy of their lives by doing something that they believed in, that they lived with. Then indeed they live on forever.”

The prayer leaders urged the community to honor the victims by reflecting their light in the world. As the sun set and dusk fell, hundreds of people at Pine Trails Park lifted glowsticks and pierced the darkness.

If you or someone you know is struggling, WLRN has compiled a list of mental health resources, here.

WLRN’s Elliot Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter