‘Beauty out of chaos:’ Parkland grieves together after mass shooting

They came with their tears. They came with their prayers. They came with their anger and their protest signs.

Just like they came after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after the carnage at Virginia Tech University, they came Tuesday to the makeshift memorial along the chain-link fence in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a quintessential American suburb whose quiet forever ended with the rapid fire of an AR-15 one week ago.

Others couldn’t bear the sight of the school. They headed to a nearby park where yet another shrine has flowered, where 17 angel statuettes stand, like a silenced chorus representing the dead in the latest American mass shooting: three teachers, 14 students, one gun.

RELATED: Douglas students, Pulse survivors join forces, head to Tally

And on Tuesday, they kept coming, often two by two, but slowly amassing in front of the school.

Douglas students and others came to lay flowers by the crosses and Stars of David. Students from West Boca High marched out of class and walked in the sun for up to 10 miles to show support — and to call for gun control.

Pastors from churches outside Parkland came to provide comfort. Others came just because they had to see with their own eyes that one troubled young man could cause such a confluence of not just anger and loss but also of love and resolve.

About another 100 young people gathered at a nearby Publix, boarded two buses and headed to Tallahassee, to tell lawmakers that they want sensible gun control now.

‘You Matter’

Apparently, somebody was secretly slipping red business cards with a heart and the words “You matter” into some visitors’ pockets.

All of it played out in front of the public lens of the ever-present media as news reporters with their notebooks, cameras and microphones weaved among the human tapestry.

RELATED: West Boca students walk 12 miles to Douglas: ‘We had to do something’

Maggie Remek visited Stoneman Douglas many times as a recruiter for Broward County’s technical college. On this day, she fell to her knees and prayed in front of just a tiny portion of the sprawling memorial that stretches along the front of the school.

The backdrop is a chain-link fence that is now a kaleidoscope of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, hearts, signs — some obviously written in the penmanship of small children: “Douglas High School. I hope you feel better.”

“We don’t even know each other, but we’ve come here to pay homage,” Remek said of the throngs drawn to the memorial.

A few feet down, two students hugged as they lay flowers in front of the cross and stars upon the grassy swale.

Nearby, a mother wept to a TV news reporter about how one of the dead was her son’s best friend and his photographs dot their home.

“How do you move on? How do you move forward” she asks the reporter. Her question was not rhetorical. She seemed to really want an answer.

RELATED: Scott holds Parkland shooting meetings; House rejects assault gun ban

Remek, who lives in Cooper City, said somehow this community has wrenched something very special out of tragedy on this spate of this roadway.

“I feel safe here, safe to say a prayer,” Remek said. “It’s good to see the beauty that emerges from the chaos.”

For spiritual leaders, the memorial allowed them a chance to reflect after days of funerals or providing grief counseling. For Rabbi Shuey Biston, director of outreach and development of Chabad of Parkland, the soul-crushing gravity of the situation came to bear upon him when he stopped by the school’s memorial.

“I just sat there and cried,” Biston said. “I really hadn’t had a moment to process any of it at all. But this morning I went by and I stopped by each of the children’s markers, I lay a flower and I spent a moment.”

His father, Rabbi Yosef Biston, tried to explain the phenomenon being experienced and witnessed in Parkland after such a horrendous tragedy. He said strangers flew in from outside the state just to sit shiva — the Jewish mourning period — with the families of Jewish victims.

“The Hanukkah candles, if you look in the box, they are many different colors, but the flame is the same,” the elder Biston said.


But there is also anger — so much anger.

Tyra Hemans, a Douglas senior who lost two good friends and a coach in the slayings, stood like a soldier in front of the memorial, stone-faced, holding her sign. “Enough,” it said, along with other sayings and a drawing of an automatic weapon with a red slash through it.

“People who we lost, if they were here today, they would want us to fight,” Hemans said. “Each soul that was taken, is each soul I have to fight for.”

Later, Hemans was at the Publix on Coral Ridge Drive, waiting to board the bus for Tallahassee, holding court for the cameras, giving a face to the new #NeverAgain movement to push for stronger gun laws.

Another angry young person was Chris Grady, a senior at Douglas who planned on joining the Army upon graduation. He had one message for lawmakers who don’t want what he called common sense gun safety reform, such as extensive background checks. “If you are not with us, you are against us and we will be voting you out,” he said.

FULL COVERAGE: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Alfonso Calderon, 16, also a Douglas junior and a co-founder of #NeverAgain, took issue with some right-wing pundits claiming he and his peers were being manipulated by the anti-gun faction. “This is an all-student, grass-roots movement,” he said.

For some, though, the river of grief at the school or the media circus at the Publix, was too much. They found solace at the other memorial at Pine Trails Park amphitheater.

Jordyn Laudanno, 17, was one of the last students to escape the deadly rampage from a student who had previously been expelled. She was laying flowers at the markers for the dead in front of the stage.

“This feels like a more peaceful place to come. We don’t have to look at the school,” she said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Texas space lover says NASA photographed 'alien skeleton' on Mars
Texas space lover says NASA photographed 'alien skeleton' on Mars

A space enthusiast from Texas believes photographs taken by a NASA rover reveal an “alien skeleton” on Mars, KTRK reported. A person from Waxahachie said a group of what looks like rocks is actually the skull and spine of a possible Martian.  The person filed a report with the Mutual UFO Network, which investigates UFO sightings...
Governor signs claims bill for parents of boy killed at Conniston
Governor signs claims bill for parents of boy killed at Conniston

After 21 years – and some faith and perhaps a bit of luck – the long wait for Ashraf Kamel and his ex-wife, Marguerite Dimitri finally is over. On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a special type of bill known as a claims bill that would clear the way for the Palm Beach County School Board to pay the two at least some of the remainder of the...
Cerabino: Not to be dramatic, but remember those Votomatics?
Cerabino: Not to be dramatic, but remember those Votomatics?

Bring back the dangling chads. It’s becoming clear that we were too hasty in getting rid of all those Votomatic punch-card ballot machines after the 2000 presidential election and its infamous 37-day Florida recount. Now, nearly 18 years later, the old Votomatics are starting to look good again. That’s because this week, the U.S. Senate...
Austin bombing suspect's death ruled a suicide caused by 'shrapnel injuries'
Austin bombing suspect's death ruled a suicide caused by 'shrapnel injuries'

The death of Mark Conditt, the man who police say is responsible for the package bombings that caused injury and death across Austin, Texas, was ruled a suicide on Friday, said Dain Johnson, a justice of the peace for Williamson County. Conditt died from “multiple penetrating shrapnel injuries” from a bomb, Johnson said. Conditt detonated...
Starbucks and T-Mobile on tap to open in Lake Worth in April
Starbucks and T-Mobile on tap to open in Lake Worth in April

Downtown Lake Worth, a new $2 million shopping center on North Dixie Highway and 2nd Avenue North, has four signed leases for tenants, according to Norman Weinstein, president of Stateside Partners, the Boca Raton company behind the venture. “We’re all anxious to get these tenants in and get them opened up,” Weinstein said. &ldquo...
More Stories