Less than two weeks after the worst mass school shooting in Florida history, teachers and staff returned to the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first of two work days with a rainbow shining in the distance.
It’s the third day that the school has been allowing people inside since the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people and injured several more. Staff members had the option to return to the school on Friday, while an orientation was held for students and parents Sunday.
Students will return to classes on Wednesday — the two week anniversary of the incident — for a shortened scheduled during the remainder of the week. Classes will resume on a normal schedule starting next Monday.
Along with the rainbow in the sky Monday morning, teachers heading into work to prepare for Wednesday were greeted at the school's entrance by parents and members of the Parkland community showing their support with signs. They were thankful for the teachers helping their children through the emotional moments that changed their lives forever.
“She put on a good face, but once we got to that side of the school things change for all of us,” said Ian Kravitz, whose daughter was inside the school during the shooting. “At 47 years old, I can try to rationalize. At 17, I don’t know how they’re going to do it.”
Students and parents walked Sunday through gates that had been locked to all but law enforcement and school officials since the Valentine's Day shooting, collecting backpacks and other belongings left behind as they fled the massacre. To enter, they passed within feet of the three-story building where the shooting happened. It is now cordoned off by a chain link fence that was covered with banners from other schools showing their solidarity.
"Just seeing the building was scary," freshman Francesca Lozano said as she exited the school with her mom. Still, she was happy to see her friends. "That made it a lot better."
"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 the accused gunman, 19-year-old 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."
The students on Sunday were greeted by 17 people dressed in white angel costumes standing beside a makeshift memorial outside the school. Organizer Terry Decarlo said the costumes are sent to every mass shooting and disaster so the survivors "know angels are looking over them and protecting them."
Many of those dressed as angels at Stoneman Douglas on Sunday were survivors of the 2016 mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, where 49 people died.
“These teachers were fantastic; kept our kids safe, kept my daughter calm, sitting in a closet for two and a half hours and they’re coming back to something I couldn't imagine – coming back to work, so just want to show them a little love, let them know the community’s with them," Kravitz added.
Eric Garner, a teacher at Stoneman Douglas, said it'll be tough transitioning into normal life again.
"I knew we were a family before this – we're in trouble. We're hurting," Garner said, but adding that "the outreach has been amazing."
Garner specifically mentioned how he's going to feel the absence of coach Aaron Feis, who sacrificed his life to save students.
"We’d see Feis on that golf cart all the time and when that golf cart comes by it’s gonna be: 'Why isn’t he there? He’s supposed to be in that seat,'" Garner said.