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Year after Parkland massacre, 17 victims remembered

Thousands across Florida observe moment of silence; prayer vigil held

PARKLAND, Fla. – Hundreds of thousands of students and adults across Florida and beyond observed a moment of silence Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.

"It's a permanent sore spot," said Fort Lauderdale High School junior Jake Lynch. "Forever, me going forward, I'll feel this day and this time and those names. It reminds me of where I want the world to be. ... From suffering, better things come out."

The massacre on Feb. 14, 2018, inflamed the national debate over guns, turned young people into political activists and gave rise to some of the biggest youth demonstrations since the Vietnam era.

The moment of silence was observed at 10:17 a.m., though the shooting actually began around 2:20 p.m. School officials picked a different time because Stoneman Douglas students were being dismissed early to avoid being on campus at the hour of the attack. The decision to hold it at 10:17 was made in honor of the 17 slain.

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Many Stoneman Douglas students arrived wearing the burgundy #MSDStrong T-shirts that have become an emblem of the tragedy. Outside, clear plastic figurines of angels were erected for each of the 14 students and three staff members killed.

"I think we all need about as much comfort as we can get today. It’s a pretty hard day," said Victoria Gonzalez, whose boyfriend, Joaquin Oliver, was killed one year ago. "I lost my best friend. That’s also why I'm here. I need to do everything I can to remember him, to make sure that his name is forever said."

Victoria Gonzalez's father is Capt. Anthony Gonzalez, with the Coral Springs Fire Depatment. He rushed in to help with other rescuers last year. 

"To this day, I can't even tell you how I was able to perform that action," he said, adding that he did not know whether his daughter was OK at the time he responded to the school. "I did not have any idea of her status until spending what felt like an eternity on scene."

Victoria Gonzalez started a memory garden in front of the campus -- a bright place in a dark time. 

"I know that it is a somber day, but this at least brings some light and positivity," said Ronit Reoven, a teacher at Stoneman Douglas.

Reoven said she was teaching at Stoneman Douglas exactly a year ago when four students in her classroom were shot, one of them killed. She used tourniquets to save the others. 

"It's something that no civilian should have to see, especially children," Reoven said. "It was truly a war zone in there."

Reporters were not allowed inside the school, but students were working on service projects, and grief counselors and therapy dogs were made available. Students could also receive massages and pedicures. An interfaith service was scheduled for later in the day at a nearby park.

"I want to show respect to what happened," freshman Matthew Sabia said. "The students who were here are probably sad and don't want to think too much about it. We don't really talk about it."

On Thursday, Stoneman Douglas had significantly more deputies and security guards on campus. Since the shooting, the school has also installed 100 new cameras and a new door lock system. Students said they feel safer, but there’s a long way to go.

Many Stoneman Douglas students skipped school. For some, it was too emotional; others did not want to be in the spotlight.

Alexis Grogan, a junior, said she was spending the day picking up beach trash, dedicating her work to those who died.

"I survived something and I don't want to waste what I call a second chance at life because those who have passed don't get that," she said. "We have to make a difference for them."

IN MEMORIAM: Victims of Parkland school shooting

Classes were almost over last Valentine's Day when authorities say 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz stormed the place with an AR-15 assault rifle and began shooting. Cruz, 20, is awaiting trial.

Victims' families who have spoken publicly said they would spend the day quietly, visiting their loved ones' graves or participating in low-key events like a community walk.

"We don't need (the anniversary) to remind us what happened. We live with it every day," said businessman Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow died in the attack.

The massacre led some Stoneman Douglas students to form the group March for Our Lives, which holds rallies around the country for tougher gun regulations and registers young people to vote.

Schools elsewhere around the country and Florida took time to remember the victims.

At Ohio's Boardman High, a chime rang 17 times. At Bethesda Chevy Chase High in Maryland, 671 white T-shirts were hung bearing the name of a teenager killed by gun violence last year. A Tampa high school honored the Parkland dead by releasing 17 white balloons.

Hundreds gather to honor Parkland victims at prayer vigil

More than a thousand people gathered at a South Florida park on the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre to honor the 17 victims killed.

Thursday evening's interfaith service at Parkland's Pine Trails Park opened with a video highlighting dozens of service projects launched in honor of the victims, including plantings at a beach to halt erosion, a campaign to help abandoned animals and the remodeling of a dance studio.

Among those gathered was 13-year-old Sydney Mills, who used to dance with shooting victim Jamie Guttenberg. She said she had written notes to her friend and to some of the other victims at another park earlier in the day.

PARKLAND, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 14: People attend a memorial service at Pine Trails Park for the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2019 in Parkland, Florida. A year ago on Feb. 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 14 students and three staff members were killed during the mass shooting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
PARKLAND, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 14: People attend a memorial service at Pine Trails Park for the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2019 in Parkland, Florida. A year ago on Feb. 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 14 students and three staff members were killed during the mass shooting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In the crowd, which stretched as far as the eye could see, was also Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was among the 17 killed. His hurt hasn't gone away. 

"Today is just another day for us, but I’m glad that the community could come together and we could maybe continue the process of healing," Petty said. "I think this is something the community really needed." 

WATCH: Vigil honors Parkland victims

Hundreds filed through, admiring art in honor of each person killed. Family and friends spent the last year doing charity work tailored in their loved ones' memory. Gov. Ron DeSantis paid his respects, as well as U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat representing Florida's 22nd congressional district. 

"Nothing that we want to do -- whether it is mental health, keeping schools safe, gun control, accountability -- none of that can happen, none of that matters, frankly, if the community can’t look to one another for support," Deutch said. 

Petty said he hopes the community can move forward one year after the shooting. 

"There’s still a lot we need to fix, I think, before we can heal," he said. "So hopefully we will continue the process."

In honor of the 17 who lost their lives, volunteers in Parkland said they are going to continue to work with the families, their friends and their classmates to do community service projects to make the world a better place.