Students return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for first time since shooting

Parkland school offers various services to ease transition

PARKLAND, Fla. – Students returned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Sunday for the first time since a gunman killed 17 people on the campus.

Cathleen Brennan, a spokeswoman for Broward County Public Schools, said the voluntary campus orientation was held to enable students and parents to access support services such as grief counseling.

The orientation was for parents and students only and was not open to the public.

"Just seeing the building was scary," freshman Francesca Lozano told The Associated Press as she exited the school with her mom. Still, she was happy to see her friends. "That made it a lot better."

Seventeen people dressed in white costumes as angels stood by a makeshift memorial outside the school. Organizer Terry Decarlo said they try to go to every mass shooting and disaster so the survivors "know angels are looking over them and protecting them."

"Two of my best friends aren't here anymore," said freshman Sammy Cooper, who picked up the book bag he had dropped as he saw 19-year-old gunman Nikolas Cruz begin shooting. "But I'm definitely going to school Wednesday. I will handle it."

Junior Sebastian Pena said the gathering was a chance to see friends and his teachers, and to "come together as a family."

On Feb. 14, former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire inside the school, killing 17 and wounding more than a dozen others.

About 3,000 students attend the sprawling high school in Parkland. After the shooting, residents erected a large makeshift memorial outside the school. Seventeen crosses bearing the names and pictures of the victims sit outside the campus.

The freshman building, where the shooting occurred, will not reopen. School officials plan to eventually raze the building.

Staff members returned to the campus last week and will prepare for the students on Monday and Tuesday. Students will officially return on Wednesday on a modified schedule.