News World Empty seats, tears as Florida school survivors return to class

Empty seats, tears as Florida school survivors return to class

Florida students
Classes have resumed for a half-day at a Florida high school two weeks the deadly shooting. Photo: Getty
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Survivors of the second-deadliest US school shooting were brought to tears by empty seats and missing names at roll call as they returned to their Florida high school.

Roughly 3000 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students returned for a half-day of classes on Thursday (AEDT) in what was described as an emotional day, with families, teachers and local police welcoming the teens back to school two weeks after 17 students and educators were massacred there.

Samuel Safaite, 15, said students in his Spanish class broke down when the teacher took attendance and read out the name of Luke Hoyer, a 15-year-old killed in the attack.

“A lot of people started crying because we all knew he was gone,” Mr Safaite said. “It was difficult for a lot of people.”

The school district was easing them back into their routine with classes scheduled to begin with what is normally the students’ fourth period.

That was where the students were in their day when a 19-year-old man who had been kicked out of the school is accused of beginning his rampage.

Not all of the sprawling school was reopened. The building where the 14 students and three educators were fatally shot on February 14 will remain closed, officials said, as state lawmakers contemplate tearing it down and replacing it with a memorial to the victims.

Florida students
Broward County Sheriff officers welcome students as they arrive. Photo: Getty

Jeannine Gittens, 44, and Janine Hills, 47, drove to Douglas ahead of the bus their sons rode in to be there for their arrival.

“We just wanted to make sure they know we are there and that they have our support,” Ms Grittens said, adding her son Jevon, a 16-year-old junior, and his friend had ridden the bus “to make today feel as normal as possible”.

The shooting inflamed the nation’s long-running debate on gun rights as defined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

It also sparked a youth-led gun control movement featuring survivors of the attack in Parkland, Florida, who have already lobbied lawmakers in Florida’s capital Tallahassee and Washington DC.

“We will push for change and our children are going to be the change agents,” Ms Gittens said.

“We see that things have to change and we are not going to stop until they do.”

Even as students went into the sprawling Douglas campus, supporters remained gathered outside.

“We feel for these kids so much,” Beverly Turner, a 63-year-old youth pastor who had two children who graduated from the school, said.

“We’ve seen them grow up and us being there for them is the least we can do.”

Florida students
Students leaving after their first day back at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Photo: Getty

Investigators have accused 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, of carrying out his attack with a legally purchased AR-15 assault-style rifle.

The debate over how to respond to the school shootings pulled in corporate America, with gun retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods on Wednesday saying it would no longer sell assault-style rifles, the type of weapon used in four of the five deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in US history, as well as Parkland.

The Republican leaders of the US Congress on Tuesday rejected new limits on guns after the attack, saying they would not raise the minimum age to buy guns.

The powerful National Rifle Association lobbied forcefully against any restrictions on gun sales, saying they infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.

President Donald Trump has suggested arming teachers and reopening mental hospitals as a way of combating school violence.

Mr Trump is scheduled to meet with a group of 17 senators and representatives from both parties later on Wednesday local time for a discussion on background checks and other proposals, the White House said.

Following the shooting, several large American companies said they were ending programs that offered discounts or other benefits to NRA members.

Some have faced blowback, particularly in Georgia where a lawmaker said he would try to stop lucrative tax benefits for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines after it cut ties with the group.

–  Reuters