A photograph taken Wednesday for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel shows a student heading to school.
It’s the first day back after the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. You might say he was one of the lucky ones if you happen to think that managing to escape the clutches of death in your classroom has anything to do with good fortune.
His outfit calls to mind a young Tiger Woods — red Nike T-shirt, black track pants, red running shoes, and he’s accompanied by a couple that looks to be his parents. He seems hesitant; the parents look like they’re trying hard to be upbeat. No doubt they’re grateful to be walking with their son instead of watching his casket being lowered into the ground, or reading the cards and letters left on school grounds in his memory.
Some of his classmates and school staff were mowed down in a wave of terror. He’s alive.
There’s no rhyme nor reason.
They’re giving high fives to the police officers lining the walkway. Behind them is a memorial to the 17 dead — hearts and flowers, whirligigs; American flags and the school’s emblem, the eagle.
There are dozens of police. They’re trying to look relaxed and welcoming, but that’s a hard to do when you’re wearing a black uniform, dark sunglasses and a holstered weapon.
Nearby, sheriff’s officers hold placards with messages of encouragement: “We are with you!” “You’ve got this!” “Be positive Be passionate & Always be proud to be an Eagle.”
The officer holding that last poster has his other hand on his gun.
Civilian supporters line the walkways, too, handing out carnations to the students.
The grass in front of the chain link fence behind them is lined with votive candles in glass holders depicting Jesus and the Virgin Mary. There are foil balloons with smiley faces.
A sign on the fence says No Skateboarding, Bicycle Riding, Roller Blading.
Nearby, sheriff’s officers hold placards with messages of encouragement: “We are with you!” “You’ve got this!” “Be positive Be passionate & Always be proud to be an Eagle.” The officer holding that last poster has his other hand on his gun.
There’s nothing about No Shooting.
The photographs pull at your heartstrings. Those youngsters, bravely having to confront their fears and be vividly reminded of what happened. Having to feel the guilt of surviving, seeing their classmates’ and teachers’ photos staring up at them from flower-laden tributes. Forever changed from knowing now what a weapon wielded in anger, hurt or confusion sounds like; the horrible damage it can do. Having to stare in the face of the terrible truth that innocent people, innocent kids, can be murdered for nothing. For nothing.
Their parents having to somehow find the courage to let their children go again, trusting in their faith that a second shooting could never happen at the same school. Counting on the heavy police presence that, on this day at least, will watch over their children with vigilant eyes.
There are so many sound arguments underway in the States right now for tighter controls and fewer guns and more stringent background checks — the most compelling of those arguments from students themselves.
Many Canadians are glad it isn’t a conversation we often have to have in this country.
The prevalence of guns in America is frightening to many. Then you try to put yourself in the shoes of the school community in Parkland, Florida and you can’t help but think that all those armed police standing guard as the students filed back into school Wednesday must’ve been a welcome sight; whatever it takes to get your child back home safe at the end of the day.
Of course, counties and states can’t afford to have police battalions outside every school and mall and concert hall and other places where people gather. And surely giving more people guns is not a solution to mass shootings.
I heard a student from that Parkland high school interviewed on the radio the other day. He referred to the shooting victims as “the fallen.”
It seemed an odd choice of words.
I always think of the fallen as those killed in battle as war rages all around — caught up in agendas controlled by power-brokers and politicians far from the actual bloodshed.
And then I thought, maybe it’s an apt choice after all.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email email@example.com. Twitter: pam_frampton