Volunteers pack up items left outside Stoneman Douglas after memorial targeted by thieves

All items left at memorial will be preserved

PARKLAND, Fla. – A group of volunteers packed up mementos Wednesday that were left outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the large memorial was allegedly targeted by thieves.

"It's definitely hard because you kind of feel like you're kind of boxing it away, but that's not the whole point of this whole thing -- it's to be able to preserve the things that were left," Lynzai Cutler said.  

The items were placed into boxes Wednesday morning, each of which will be preserved following the Feb. 14 mass shooting that left 17 people dead.

As for the flowers left outside the school, volunteers said the flowers will be ground up and used as fertilizer for parks in Parkland.

"We are talking to FAU about the possibility of using their archival services and/or hiring our own city archivists and conservationists to assure that, not only are they preserved properly and be here in 100 years for people to look at, but also archived correctly," Jeff Schwartz, president of the Historical Society for the City of Parkland, said. 

Counselors were on hand to help anyone who was overcome with grief as they sifted through letters left at the school and other touching mementos. 

Volunteers said they were taking down the memorial not only because of the recent arrests of two people accused of stealing items left at the memorial site, but because some students have expressed concern that it was becoming difficult to come to school every day and see the memorial.

"We're trying to get the students involved because we want them to use this as a healing program," Schwartz said. "It's real important, we feel, that cleaning this up and beginning the healing process for not only the city, but for the school and the students, is extremely important.

"There's quite a few students that don't want to come back because of the memorial, and so that's really important for us to get it out so the students can start re-doing their school, re-doing their education -- getting back to some degree of normalcy. It's going to be years before any type of normalcy sets in in Parkland."  

It's expected to take a few more days to completely remove the memorial. 

Broward Sheriff's Office deputies said they arrested Michael Kennedy, 37, of Hollywood, and Kara O'Neil, 40, of Fulton, New York, Sunday after they were caught stealing items that were left at the memorial.

They each face a charge of suspicion of removing or disfiguring a tomb or a monument, which is a felony.

According to the arrest report, witnesses saw Kennedy and O'Neil taking items from the memorial late Sunday outside the Parkland school and contacted authorities.

Deputies searched Kennedy and O'Neil's car and found several items -- including teddy bears, plaques and pinwheels -- from the Stoneman Douglas memorial in the back seat, the report said. 

Deputies said Kennedy and O'Neil also ripped posters from crosses dedicated to each of the shooting victims.

At first, Kennedy told deputies that he was bringing items to the memorial, not removing them, the report said. Later he told deputies, "I took that banner down because I am pro-gun," the report said.

O'Neil has since posted bail, but Kennedy remains in jail. 

Below is a list of the items stolen from the memorial that were found in the suspects' car, according to authorities:

•    One metal trophy that read "1st Place Parkland Basketball 2017"
•    One shadow box containing pictures of the shooting victims
•    One large canvas banner with a gun-control message written on it
•    One stone with the inscription, "Never Again"
•    One standard-size U.S. flag
•    Two plaques reading "The Mighty Seventeen" and "MSD Parkland Strong"
•    Three teddy bears
•    17 metal angel pennants
•    25 pinwheel lawn ornaments, some displaying the names of the victims


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