Hundreds of mourners, including the parents of some students shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, gathered to remember the children in a candlelight vigil Thursday night.
The prayer service at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., honored the teenagers and adults shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the day earlier. Authorities say a former student opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle at the South Florida campus — leaving 17 dead and several more injured.
The former student, Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“I’m deeply hurt for the people that we’ve lost,” resident William Cody said at Thursday’s sunset service. “For a country as great as America is, we shouldn’t have to experience this in our life. And I’d never expect something to hit so close to home.”
Cody’s wife, Chelsea Briggs, a teacher at the high school, helped escort students to safety during Wednesday’s attack.
“I hunt, I fish. There’s no reason why these guns should be on the market,” Cody added. “These are military-issued weapons. They should not be allowed to the public to be handled.”
The AR-15 assault rifle is the slightly modified, civilian version of the military M-16.
“It’s just wrong. It just makes no sense. It just doesn’t make sense,” Cody continued. “These things shouldn’t be happening.”
The stage at the Pine Trails Park amphitheater featured 17 ornamental angels — each four feet tall, borrowed from the nearby city of Sunrise, Fla. — which were used five years ago to honor victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Ct.
“Unfortunately, we have to use them again,” said Sunrise city employee Kevin Pickard. “We didn’t think we’d need them so close to home.”
The prevailing sentiment at Thursday’s vigil was shock, that such a brutal attack could occur in a South Florida municipality of gated communities, winding roads and calm. Many of Parkland’s 31,000 residents used to live in New York City — and Parkland was once named the safest city in Florida.
“People used to boast about how this was the safest town in Florida,” said 14-year-old Ava DiGillo, who heard the shots on Wednesday from her middle school next to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. “No place is safe anymore.”
Few people at the vigil brought signs with political messages, but one carried by Tighe Barry read, “NRA Stop Killing Our Kids.”
Among those in attendance on Thursday was Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Wednesday afternoon.
“Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as gun violence,” he said. “It happened in Parkland. What is unfathomable is that Jamie took a bullet and is dead.”