As cars whizzed by and the sun faded, more than 80 people crowded together Thursday afternoon near a garden outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One by one, students recited poems they wrote about love, friendship and innocence lost.
Marisol Garrido remembered Helena Ramsay, who died trying to save another student.
“I am older than you will ever be now. But I still think of you as a friend who was a little bit more like a mom—always caring, always smiling, always giving me a hug in the hallway when I needed one. Helena, right now I need one,” she read.
Jamie Morris reflected on life since the shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, that left 17 people dead.
“Now all our reminders of high school bring us back to the day when we heard bullets pierce our friends as their young hearts faded away. We watched as our youth was robbed before our eyes,” she read.
The poetry recital was one way the Parkland community coped on Thursday, one year after the shooting. Earlier in the day, students took part in a “Day of Service and Love” where they served breakfast to first responders and packed meals for hungry children. Therapy dogs and counselors were on campus, and school attendance was voluntary.
At the poetry reading, parents, students and alumni huddled together at the garden that has sprouted to celebrate life. Sitting on the ground in front of a life-size white statue of Joaquin Oliver—who died during the shooting—the attendees laughed, cried and hugged.
Tori Gonzalez created the garden and organized the event.
The garden “was specifically so that people felt that they in this space could express all types of emotions,” said Gonzalez, who was Oliver’s girlfriend.
Other Parkland residents and Stoneman Douglas alumni said they were relying on each other to cope throughout the day.
“All my friends keep me stronger,” said Julien Decoste, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas last year and was also close friends with Oliver. “That’s the only way to get through it.”
Judy Kanter, who’s lived in Parkland for 30 years, said people should try to be hopeful and positive, as hard as that may be.
“We’ve had a year to grieve,” she said. “Today is our day to unveil and to move forward.”
After more than six people read their poems, Gonzalez stepped up near the statue of Oliver for her own recital. Then, with tears streaming down her face, she held the arm of Oliver as if he were there.
“No title could leave our bond justified. Our eternal love could never die. Although I am without you, I know I am within you,” she read.