Community observes ‘a day of service and love’ five years after Stoneman Douglas shooting
South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Spencer Norris | February 14, 2023
Parkland and other communities across South Florida are coming together to mark five years since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
While the wounds remain deep five years later, for some people, time has made them less raw.
Two teachers, Felicia Burgin and Cindi Helverson, stopped by a small public commemoration at a garden outside of the school Tuesday morning, at the corner of Holmberg and Pine Island Road. It was the first time either had decided to spend Feb. 14 on campus since the attack.
Burgin, an English teacher, said she wasn’t sure how she would feel once she stepped onto the property, but for the moment felt like was the right next step in the healing process.
“It’s year five, and it seems like a very [momentous] year for some reason, like a shift of sorts,” she said. It’s the first year since the tragedy that she plans to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
“For a long time, we just felt like that was disrespectful or sad, or like somehow we weren’t remembering them by celebrating,” she said. “But it feels like it’s come to a point where maybe we can celebrate them on Valentine’s Day.”
The school district’s “Day of Service and Love” was designated as a day for students, staff and volunteers “to come together to support each other through a variety of community service activities at schools across the county,” the district said.
17, the count of those lost in the tragedy, is a number that will run through the commemorations. At 10:17 a.m. Tuesday, 17 Stoneman Douglas staff members placed flowers on plaques for each of the 17 victims who died at the school in 2018.
Broward Commissioner Michael Udine and Congressmen Maxwell Frost and Jared Moskowitz stopped to make remarks at news conferences at the school and neighboring Pine Trails Park.
“This community is still not healed, and it is a scab that constantly gets picked off every time there is another mass shooting in another community,” Moskowitz said. His comments come on the heels of an attack that happened Monday night, when a gunman opened fire at Michigan State University, killing three students and wounding five.
But while politicians tried to steer clear of politics, there was no avoiding the policy issues roiling in the background.
The elected officials visiting Stoneman Douglas stopped to answer questions about the legislative proposals. Moskowitz, who was a state representative at the time of the massacre, is among those who’ve opposed Florida’s move toward allowing people to carry concealed weapons without having to get a permit. Supporters of the bill have said it protects people’s right to protect themselves.
But Moskowitz said Florida allowing permitless carry is “obviously a step backward. It’s a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.”
Eric and Margaret Lipetz, 86 and 83, stopped to visit the memorial garden. Eric, a Belgian Holocaust survivor, said a brief prayer before taking a seat next to his wife. He had lectured at the school previously, including a week before the shooting, he said. Their youngest grandchild will start school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas next year.
“When we came here, I thought that was the end of this kind of stuff. These mass killings, these genocides, the stupidity of wars and all. But it starts all over again,” Eric said.
He asked aloud the sort of desperate questions that, in spite of the healing that has occurred, have hung like a pall over the community since the shooting.
“Where does it stop? How does it stop? When are we going to grow up? Why do we need so many weapons? Why can’t we control crime? Why can’t we control any of this?” he wondered.
“My generation is getting too old to continue,” he said. “But you gotta pick up the flame. You’ve gotta do something to stop all this stupidity.”