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UPDATE: Hugs, Tears And Police For The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Student’s First Day Back

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students return to school Wednesday, two weeks after the deadly shooting. Sophomore Gabe Glassman captures what day-to-day life is like for these students now.

THE LATEST on the Parkland students returning to school:

Students and teachers hugged and cried Wednesday as they returned under heavy police guard to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since a teenager with an assault rifle killed 17 people and thrust the huge Florida school into the center of a renewed national gun debate.

The half-day began with fourth period so that the nearly 3,300 students could first be with the people they were with during the shooting.

“In the beginning, everyone was super serious, but then everyone cheered up and it started being the same vibes we had before the shooting. People started laughing and joking around,” said Kyle Kashuv, a junior who said he hugged every single teacher.

On the way in, teens were guarded by hundreds of police officers. The police were accompanied by comfort animals, including dogs, horses and a donkey. One of the horses had “eagle pride” painted on its side. A nearby woman held a sign offering “free kisses.”

After school dismissed, members of the Guardian Angels wearing their trademark red berets lined the streets at a crosswalk.

Kashuv said he was amazed by the outpouring of support from the community, including the police presence, the animals and many well-wishers. There were letters from all over the world and “banners on every single wall,” he said.

Some of the officers carried military-style rifles, and Superintendent Robert Runcie said a heavy police presence would continue for the remainder of the school year. The heavy arms rattled some students.

“This is a picture of education in fear in this country. The NRA wants more people just like this, with that exact firearm, to scare more people and sell more guns,” said David Hogg, who has become a leading voice in the student movement to restrict assault weapons.

About 150 grief counselors were on campus “to provide a lot of love, a lot of understanding” and to help students “ease back” into their school routines, Runcie said.

The freshman building where the Feb. 14 massacre took place remained cordoned off.

Students were told leave their backpacks at home. Principal Ty Thomas tweeted that the school’s focus would be on “emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum.”

In each classroom, colored pencils, coloring books, stress balls and toys were available to help students cope.

“It’s not how you go down. It’s how you get back up,” said Casey Sherman, a 17-year-old junior. She said she was not afraid to be return, “just nervous.”

Then she saw all the officers.

“Oh, wow, there are a lot of police,” she said as she pulled up to the entrance. “Oh my goodness, yeah, that is a lot.”

Many students said the debate over new gun laws helped them process the traumatic event and prepared them to return.

Alexis Grogan, a 15-year-old sophomore, was concerned that it might be too soon to go on as usual without slain friends such as Luke Hoyer, who sat two seats behind her in Spanish class. But the effort to strengthen gun laws has buoyed her spirits.

“I am so proud of how the kids at my school have been fighting because we all want change to happen and, as we see the progression, it really shows us that people do care. And they do hear what we have to say,” Grogan said in a text message.

As students went back to class, Dick’s Sporting Goods, a major U.S. retailer, announced that it would immediately halt sales of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines at all of its stores and ban the sale of all guns to anyone under 21.

A House committee voted Tuesday in favor of a bill to raise the minimum age to buy long guns from 18 to 21 and to create a program allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in classrooms if their school district allows it. Those teachers would receive law-enforcement training and get deputized by the local sheriff’s office.

State lawmakers continued their investigation of how the suspected shooter, Nikolas Cruz, managed to slip through local law enforcement despite previous warning signs.

The Florida House voted Wednesday to subpoena records from Broward County and the school board, as well as sheriff’s offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties and the city of Coral Springs. The subpoenas demand that the records be turned over by Tuesday.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he hopes a gun and school-safety bill is passed before the annual legislative session ends March 9. The measures he proposed did not include arming teachers, but he declined to say Tuesday whether he would veto a sweeping package that includes that provision.

The Broward superintendent has spoken out firmly against the idea of arming teachers.

Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said she supports school security and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but “guns are not the problem.”

Kashuv said he was most moved by a tattoo his teacher got that said “MSD Strong” with a giant eagle.

“The shooting doesn’t define us,” he said. “We’re really moving past it and trying to heal right now.”

‘We Were In That School’

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Surviving a shooting at his high school turned Gabe Glassman into a gun-control activist. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sophomore says political activism is his way of coping.

For the past few weeks, my house has been command central for handling classroom supplies that people across the country have donated to my teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Many of their classrooms were shot up when a gunman opened fire on Feb. 14, killing 17 of my classmates and school staff.

I’m a sophomore at Douglas. At the time of the shooting, I had to hide in a closet for an hour and 20 minutes and get evacuated by a SWAT team.

This is my life now. If I’m not at home, helping my mom manage supplies, I’m in grief counseling, speaking at a rally or visiting memorials in the park. Then I go on social media to check my posts about gun control. More than 2,200 people saw my latest tweet, 46 people liked it, and 28 people retweeted.

My mom checks on me a lot. Her name is Lisa Glassman.

“OK, so how are you feeling right now for real? Tell me what’s going on in your mind and stuff,” she says.

A lot, I told her. A lot is going on in my mind, and obviously there is so much I have to think about: Going back to school. My Twitter life. My activist life.

My friend Alex Wind understands. We know each other from theater, but now, Alex is more famous for his activism. He helped start the #NeverAgain movement after texting with friends.

Alex says the movement is a way to cope, not necessarily to grieve.

“As much as we’re doing all these interviews … , we’re still kids and we were in that school,” he says.

#NeverAgain grew from a hashtag to March For Our Lives, scheduled for next month in Washington, D.C., and across the country. It’s a lot to handle.

“There are hundreds of messages at all times. And we’re trying our hardest. We’re all so busy all day long,” Alex says.

We don’t go back to school until Wednesday. Since we’ve been home, it seems like everyone is part of the movement. I’m speaking, tweeting and writing letters to government officials. And I’m not even one of the organizers.

Like Alex says, “There’s no central leader. It’s a team effort. That’s what’s most important. We’ll split up and we’ll say, ‘OK, this group, let’s do this thing, this group do this thing.’ “

Douglas High School senior Ariana Ortega is part of the activism, too — and she can’t believe how fast everything has changed. “Two weeks ago, we were all going prom dress shopping, sending each other pictures. … All of those things seem so insignificant now.”

Now, Ariana says, “We have many group chats, where we have students speaking about legislative stuff, emotions, plans, everything.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sophomore Gabe Glassman speaks at a rally at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Palm Beach, Fla. The 15-year-old survived the school shooting that left 17 dead.

We all have our own ways to cope. Amanda Edwards is my neighbor across the street. She was in the freshman building where the shooting took place, and she has kept more private since then, finding comfort in her writing and piano. Her close friend Carmen Schentrup was killed. Amanda still vividly remembers seeing Carmen in the hallway a few days before everything happened.

“I remember coming out and seeing her, and she kind of slowed down a little bit because she saw me, and she said, ‘Hi.’ And I said, ‘Hi.’ I remember saying goodbye, and it was the last time I saw her — at least alive,” Amanda says.

A lot of Amanda’s friends don’t plan to go back to school, she says — at least not on the first day it’s back open.

“I think I’m a little bit too scared to go,” Amanda says, “and my dad said that if I ever get scared during the school day on Wednesday, or after that, that I’m fine with leaving early and stuff. Because, I mean, what’s the point of being at school if we’re just freaking out half the time, because there might be a school shooter again coming in.”

I get it. I was anxious to go back even for an hour this weekend to get the stuff I had left there. When the shooting happened, many of us ran out without our phones and backpacks. I actually felt relief getting everything back. And on a personal level, all the political activity is helping me cope. Otherwise, I’d still be in the background, or sitting in bed.

But some moments are easier than others, and it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through it. I asked my friend Sawyer Garrity what she would say to another teenager who is feeling numb — someone who hadn’t experienced a shooting like we have.

“It doesn’t feel like it could ever happen to you until it does. It still doesn’t feel real, even if it does happen to you,” Sawyer says.

I don’t know if I’ll stay this involved or what it will feel like tomorrow once we’re back at school. It might be good that we’ll be busy all day, and back together.

But I know it will be hard, just to walk on campus.

This story was produced by Youth Radio.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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