Current News

/

ArcaMax

Parkland school building where mass shooting unfolded begins to come down, 6 years later

Jimena Tavel, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

PARKLAND, Fla. — Exactly six years after the Parkland mass shooting shook South Florida and the nation, crews started to demolish the high school building where the tragedy unfolded.

But instead of a dramatic boom of a dynamite implosion or the smack of a wrecking ball striking the 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, all that spectators heard Friday were creaks.

The demolition will be mechanical. Workers will dismantle the three-story building using equipment like cranes, bulldozers and excavators.

That began at 8:26 a.m., when a massive yellow grappler, a machine with a jaw-like arm at the top, started slowly chipping away at the corner window of the building’s third floor.

As it went, large pieces of concrete dropped to the ground. The process, which will will cost $339,000 according to a spokesman with the Broward County school district, likely will go on for a few weeks. After, the school district will build a still-undetermined area to honor the victims and serve the current students.

Inside that freshman building, a former Stoneman Douglas student shot to death 17 students and staffers, and injured 17 others on Feb. 14, 2018. Since that day, the school district had kept the building intact as evidence for two court cases — one involving the shooter and another involving the school deputy who didn’t enter the building.

After both cases ended with the shooter being sentenced to life in prison and the deputy found not guilty, the district moved forward with the demolition this summer, with the help of a contractor.

“Today is a very, very sad day,” said Max Schachter, the father of Alex Schachter, who died in the shooting. “It’s a reminder that I don’t have my little boy here and that Alex was murdered in the deadliest high school shooting in United States history. It’s another reminder of what happens when you don’t prioritize safety and security.”

On Friday, family members of the dead and injured, as well as some school employees, students and elected officials, gathered to watch what for many felt like a long-awaited moment. Some stood closer to the building under two large white tents the school district set up; the rest witnessed it farther away.

The district gave the families the option to slam a hammer into the walls of the building before the demolition. Most declined, a spokeswoman with the school district said, but a few accepted the opportunity, including Lori Alhadeff, the current chair of the Broward School Board and the mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, who died in the shooting.

“I was able to release the pain as I smashed it,” said Alhadeff, who wore a silver heart-shaped necklace with Alyssa’s photo and held another printed photo of her daughter. “It was helpful.”

Later, as soon as the heavy machinery struck the building, Alhadeff said the impact heightened her sorrow.

“It’s really been a roller coaster of pain and grief, but this is absolutely one step in that healing process,” Alhadeff said.

Dylan Persaud, a former Stoneman Douglas student, stood across the school campus on a Pine Island Road sidewalk, as the dust filled the air and small rocks and other debris tumbled down. He wore a burgundy and silver T-shirt from the school and said the demolition process reminded him of his own healing.

“It’s a slow process,” he said.

The 20-year-old graduated in 2021 and became a full-time mechanic and part-time chef. The day of the shooting — a day he said he thinks about often — he was in the 1100 building, near the 1200. His teacher and classmates initially thought the popping sounds were firecrackers, but they eventually realized they were shots being fired.

He knew seven of the 17 deceased, including Scott Beigel, his teacher.

Persaud filmed the demolition Friday and sent it to some of his friends who couldn’t attend. The destruction of the building, which he had looked forward to for years, gave him a sense of resolution.

 

“This is the end to the story, the period at the end of it. This is it,” he said. “But you can never forget something like this.”

Joanne Wallace, a former special education teacher at Stoneman Douglas, also watched the building being torn down. She sat on a pink camping chair outside the school because she still fears crowds.

“I still have a little bit of PTSD,” Wallace said. She has worked at the Broward school district for about 20 years and spent seven of those at Stoneman Douglas. Last year, she moved to a role at the Equity, Diversity and School Climate Department, in part because of the painful history at Stoneman Douglas.

She said a part of her is happy that the physical reminder of the shooting will be gone. She wants to keep remembering the 17 “as they lived and not think too much about the way they died.”

“I’m just here to get another piece of closure and to honor ... everybody that was lost,” she said as rain drops dripped down her black umbrella.

Schachter, who launched a career after the shooting advocating for school safety across the country, said he will never find closure.

“To me, whether the building is here or whether it’s not I will remember the horrific images in my head that I saw walking through that building ... so there’s no closure for me. It’s progress through this journey that I’m on.”

After the building is dismantled and the debris is removed, the site will be leveled and covered with sod, a district spokeswoman said.

After the demolition ends this summer, Alhadeff said the space will likely become a field that allows the current students and staff at Stoneman Douglas to use it, but that at the same time somehow memorializes the lives lost.

“We can create an MSD Legacy Field that can be usable for students ... whether it’s for the soccer team, the band, the JROTC,” Alhadeff said. “We’re still working on what that looks like.”

That lack of a plan worries Tony Montalto, the father of Gina Montalto, another student killed in the shooting.

“I’m concerned because we haven’t seen a solid plan for what’s going to replace this building,” Montalto said Friday.

He wants it to be “something appropriate” that allows the community to remember Gina and the other 16. Tony Montalto said his son worries people may forget his sister after the building disappears.

He also wants it to be something meaningful that can be seen from the street.

Right now, whenever he drives by, Montalto recalls a young Gina who grew up watching the movie “High School Musical.” Gina always pointed at the high school and told her dad, “There’s my high school musical.”

“I can still hear her voice,” her dad said.


©2024 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus