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As final debris of shooting site is cleared, Parkland teacher feels a 'weight lifted off'

Demolition begins on the 1200 Building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday, June 14, 2024. It comes six years after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at the school, much of which took place in the classroom building.
Elise Gregg
/
WLRN News
Demolition begins on the 1200 Building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday, June 14, 2024. It comes six years after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at the school, much of which took place in the classroom building.

Six years after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the final debris of the 1200 building where the tragedy took place is being cleared away.

When demolition began last month, language arts teacher Sarah Lerner was there. She’s been a teacher for 22 years, ten of those at MSD. She was also on campus the day the massacre happened.

Portrait photo of Sarah Lerner, Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher
Sarah Lerner
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Sarah Lerner
Portrait of Sarah Lerner, a language arts teacher and yearbook advisor who has taught at Marjory Stoneman Douglas for ten years

“I am very close to building 12, and anytime I open my classroom, I can see the building, and it is a constant daily reminder of what happened,” she said.

Since that day, Lerner has spoken to WLRN about her emotional journey. In 2018 she talked about returning to the school, while in 2019 she spoke about writing part of a book about the shooting.

In that time, she also co-founded Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence, an organization of educators that amplifies the voices of those affected by gun violence in schools.

Now, with trials completed and the building down, she reflected on the past six years and what the demolition means for her.

A lot has happened in that time. Lerner’s gone from not only being an MSD teacher, but also an MSD parent.

“My son, for example — he just graduated from Stoneman Douglas a couple of weeks ago,” Lerner said. “He was in sixth grade when the shooting happened, and he was in the middle school next door.”

READ MORE: 'That chapter has closed': Parkland shooting building is finally being demolished

Her daughter was in third grade at the time. This year, she finished her freshman year at Stoneman Douglas. It’s a reminder that what happened in 2018 doesn’t stay there. It moved with the students and faculty, as well as their friends, families and community.

And for those like Lerner, who are still deeply part of the school, the building symbolized that.

“For those of us who teach there every day and also see the building every day, it's very different for us,” she said. “I am glad that it is down and I think it's been a long time coming.”

'Last piece of the puzzle'

She’s called the process since the shooting becoming the “new me”. When she stood outside watching the demolition in June, she knew the building was a part of that.

“I stood there the day that demolition started with colleagues who've over these 10 years become more than friends and like family and I felt this weight being lifted off of me,” Lerner said.

“I almost felt like everything that was trapped in that building had been released.”

She said was nervous about going to watch the demolition — just as she had been nervous months earlier when she, along with other faculty toured that building in October.

“I haven't spoken about this much just out of respect for the families, but seeing the building, which I had been in prior to the shooting a gajillion times — seeing it on this side of things at that point, almost six years later, was so helpful and cathartic for me.”

Just as the shooting changed her and her life, she said that the peace she got from being in that building six years later changed her too.

Its absence will do the same.

“I live in the community, I've driven past it, any number of times since that initial demolition day,” Lerner said. “It really is that — for me at least — that last piece of the puzzle, and now we can all collectively move forward.”

Elise Catrion Gregg is a summer 2024 intern for WLRN. She is finishing her master's degree in criminal justice from Florida International University, where she also earned her bachelor's degree in journalism.
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