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Florida school shooting survivors return to campus, try to resume normalcy

The worst of it, for the kids, might have been seeing their backpacks, in boxes lining the hallways, for them to claim.

Each bore a police tag marked “evidence.”

On Sunday, a day of the week when children normally aren’t at school, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, were allowed to come back onto the campus for the first time since that terrible day.

>> Chipper Jones: No need for civilians to own assault rifles

It had been just 11 days. It seemed like yesterday. Or forever.

They came, quietly, somberly, some stopping to hug a friend they hadn’t seen since that afternoon when they all were moving much faster. When they left their backpacks in their classrooms or dropped them as they ran through the screams and the shouts and the shattering glass and the bullets and the blood. And the bodies of 14 classmates and three adults.

Sunday’s event, closed to the press, was a “campus reunification,” the school’s message board said. A day of sanity before the kids took on the difficult task of going back to school this week. A desperate attempt to at least approach normality.

>> Ivanka Trump: 'I don't know' if teachers should be armed

Outside the school, some places still bore yellow crime scene tape. But more predominant were blue and red and green balloons and flowers, many piled up in front of 17 memorials.

The chain-link fence was lined with the ads that had been up from long before — from local doctors, lawyers, pizza joints. But now they also bore banners bearing words of support. Boca Christian and St. Andrews School in Boca Raton were there. “Stand strong,” one sign read.

Many banners were from nearby Broward County high schools, some of them hoping for the day when they can innocently be bitter sports rivals again instead of brothers and sisters in sorrow.

>> Florida school shooting survivor's mother says her family has received death threats

Many of the children and parents filing in Sunday to the impromptu open house, and filing out later, did not want to talk to reporters. Because it wasn’t the time. Or because this was just too private. Or maybe because they were afraid of their emotions.

Michael Dittmeier had brought his daughter, Michelle.

“She’s doing good. Strong,” Michael said. “Better than me.”

His throat closed and he had to stop.

>> Florida sheriff rejects calls from state lawmaker for his ouster after Parkland school shooting

“It’s basically to let these kids get reoriented,” he finally said. “We are a family.”

For senior Gloria Jimenez, 17, seeing her backpack in a row of boxes was “weird.”

“Those eight minutes were like 80 years. Her life passed through my brain,” dad Edward Jimenez said.

“I think I’m doing OK,” Gloria said. “Less crying.”

>> Teachers to Trump: #ArmMeWith funding, supplies and resources, not guns

Chris and Laura King said their 14-year-old son, Connor, still was inside collecting his pack. They said the teen heard shots, saw glass shatter and saw his friend’s body. They said he has had to get medical help for panic attacks that cause him to wake screaming in the night.

The kids kept filing in. And filing out.

“For an hour, I didn’t know if she was alive,” Sham Tilak said, standing with daughter, Karishma Tilak, 14.

>> Armed Stoneman Douglas resource officer 'never went in' during Florida shooting

Tilak, who moved his family from Boynton Beach in 1997, said that as children raced out from the gunfire, his father, Karishma’s grandfather, waited with other frantic loved ones as Karishma texted from inside for him to stay away so he wouldn’t be shot.

“I’m OK,” Karishma said, but her demeanor suggested otherwise.

Sham was asked when things might return to some semblance of pre-Feb. 14. He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Student Megan Martin, 16, had come with her mother Heidi, a teacher at nearby Heron Heights Elementary. She said she was “just really excited” to see her friends again. She said she was proud that her schoolmates have turned their grief into action, mounting a vocal campaign to talk about guns.

>> WATCH: Florida school shooting survivors perform emotional song at CNN town hall

“We’ve always been a tough school,” she said.

One parent, who didn’t give her name, had a different perspective. Her family had moved in October from a small town north of Toronto. Her young daughter had gone from a class of 800 to one of about 3,300.

“My mother was not thrilled we were moving to Florida,” the woman said. The reason: guns.

“Most Canadians don’t get it,” she said. “You don’t see what’s so obvious to the rest of the world.”

>> Florida school shooting timeline: Seven minutes, three floors and 17 dead

Giovanni Zamudio and his wife, Mary, came with their sons, ages 13 and 8. They live in Weston, but they felt compelled to come and hand out yellow roses.

The Zamudios had seen the drug cartel-fueled carnage of past years in their native Colombia, and “that’s why we were looking for a safe place in Florida,” Giovanni said. “We love this country. But there has to be a lot of changes. Mostly for the kids.”

Antonio Vargas and his wife, Gloria Lewis, their shirts emblazoned with “Jesus is Lord,” lined the entrance gate, greeting kids and parents. The two work with the homeless in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Gloria said the couple had had “a calling” to come to the school and found out about the open house only when they arrived.

>> Florida school shooting: What we know about the victims

“This problem is bigger than a gun,” Gloria said. “It’s a heart problem.”

Sister Immaculata, a young visiting nun from Madrid, had come down with Lisa Addeo from St. Andrew Catholic Church in Stuart.

Addeo propped up a large portrait of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and handed out prayer cards to passers-by.

Sister Immaculata said in Spanish that she’d talked to colleagues back in Spain about the doings in Florida. Then she folded her hands and said in English, “Pray. For Pray.”

>> Cartoonist shares heartbreaking drawing in wake of the Florida school shooting

Behind the two, Moshe Yemin walked up with an Israeli flag in his shirt pocket. He’s from a synagogue in Sunny Isles, near Miami Beach, and when he heard many of the victims were Jewish, he felt he had to come up.

Yemin, and Vargas and Lewis, and Sister Immaculata and Lisa Addeo, said they were fine with being part of an interdenominational full-court press of love by soldiers of the Lord.

“We have one God,” Yemin said.

>> Read more trending news 

At the east entrance, people stood dressed in white angel outfits, complete with wings. There were 17.

The group had driven down early Sunday from Orlando, where they’d formed just after the Pulse nightclub shooting. That time, 49 people had dressed as angels.

“I want to pack these wings away. Never to come out again,” group organizer Terry DeCarlo said. “Unfortunately, they keep coming out.”

College student discovers true paternity in science class

One woman got a whole lot more than she paid for in a college science class when she uncovered a nasty family secret.

>> Read more trending news

The unnamed student discovered that her father — the man who had raised her since she was a child and who she called “dad” for her entire life — wasn’t really her father. He was her uncle. And the story is just as bizarre as it sounds. Thankfully, Twitter user “Anya” managed to explain it:

Florida school shooting survivor's mother says her family has received death threats

The mother of Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg is speaking out after her family received death threats because her son and another survivor were accused of being crisis actors.

>> Florida sheriff rejects calls from state lawmaker for his ouster after Parkland school shooting

Hogg and fellow students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have made frequent media appearances to call for action on gun control after police say Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and injured more than a dozen others in a Valentine’s Day massacre.

>> Delta latest company ending discounts, benefits for NRA members

The students have since become the center of a false conspiracy theory claiming that they are actually actors who are coached before television appearances.

>> Teachers to Trump: #ArmMeWith funding, supplies and resources, not guns

Rebecca Boldrick, Hogg’s mother, told The Washington Post that her family has received death threats since the conspiracy theories started surfacing, saying, “I’m under so much stress.”

“I’m angry and exhausted,” she added. “Angry, exhausted and extremely proud.”

>> Read more trending news 

The student has said he's not a “crisis actor” but rather someone who witnessed a tragedy.

“It’s annoying. I hate it. But it’s part of American democracy,” Hogg said in an interview with the Post. “Am I an actor? No. Am I a witness? Yes.”

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat pay tribute to Florida school shooting victims, survivors

The Miami Heat held a touching pregame tribute Saturday for the those affected by the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

>> Florida school shooting survivor's mother says her family has received death threats

Members of the Heat and Memphis Grizzlies gathered at midcourt to hold a large Stoneman Douglas banner while Dwyane Wade addressed the crowd.

“Tonight, we honor the 17 lives that were tragically lost in Parkland,” Wade said. “We applaud the fearless students that are fighting for their lives. We also make sure that their voices are heard around gun safety. You are our nation’s inspiration. We salute you and we support you.”

>> Florida sheriff rejects calls from state lawmaker for his ouster after Parkland school shooting

The Heat, who on Friday debuted a uniform patch to honor the victims, then honored each of the 17 victims on the video screen before Alex Wind, a Stoneman Douglas student and member of the school’s drama club, sang the national anthem.

>> Watch his national anthem performance here

>> Read more trending news 

“It’s an absolute honor for us to wear these patches,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before Friday’s game in New Orleans. “I know I speak for everybody in that locker room and everybody in the organization, we are so very inspired by the leadership and courage and absolute fearlessness of the kids and young men and women at Stoneman Douglas. It’s such a tragic event, but we hear their voices, loud and clear. And we are behind them and this is only the start.”

Perilous times for historically black colleges

Two years ago, Amelia Smith received the one thing she thought she always wanted – a blue envelope from Spelman College. She had been accepted to what many consider the finest black college in America.

>> Read more trending news

Her grandmother went to Spelman. So did her mother. And her aunt. And her sister, who’s a senior there now. So Smith wasn’t surprised when she was accepted, too. 

She is just wrapping up her sophomore year. But not at Spelman. She’s studying biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech. 

“I am kind of the black sheep in the family,” Smith said. “When I got accepted into Tech, I felt very proud of myself. My grandmother (a dean at Fort Valley State University) was very proud of me. She said if she had had the opportunity to go to Tech when she was choosing a college, she would have gone. But she never got that chance.”

To read the complete story, visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Girl gives teacher her 75 cents in ice cream money to help with family funeral

A kind-hearted gesture by an Alabama sixth-grader has gone viral after the girl gave up her ice cream money -- 75 cents -- to help fund the funeral for her teacher’s father-in-law.

Price Lawrence, an English teacher at Highlands Elementary School in Huntsville, posted about the moment Tuesday on Facebook. He said that his first period students could tell that he was “a little off” that morning, so he explained that his wife’s father had died over the weekend and that he was worried about her.

The students offered their condolences, then got busy on classwork. The subject of their teacher’s family’s loss was forgotten, except for one girl. 

“While standing at my door giving hugs and high-fives at dismissal to second period, one little girl put something in my hand,” Lawrence wrote. “She told me, ‘This is for your wife. I know it was real expensive when my daddy died, and I don’t really want ice cream today anyways.’”

Lawrence posted a photo of what the girl gave him -- three quarters and a note on an index card on which she had written, “Ms. Laerence (sic), I’m sorry,” followed by a frowny face in what appeared to be red colored pencil.

“I wish the world would pay more attention to children,” Lawrence wrote. “We could learn a lot from them.”

As of Friday morning, Lawrence’s post had been shared close to 260,000 times. More than 31,000 people responded to it. 

“That is how children should be raised,” one man wrote. “Kudos to that family.”

“God bless her little heart,” a woman wrote. 

Other commenters said the girl’s gesture had them in tears.

“Amazing how much love children have,” another woman wrote. “God bless this little one. Learn from her.”

“If we all had a heart like this sweet child, what a wonderful world we would have,” a third woman wrote. 

>> Read more trending news

Lawrence’s wife, Jessica Lawrence, posted the image on her own Facebook page, saying that the girl’s heart “affected (her) in the most positive way.” Jessica Lawrence, a high school English teacher, went on to say that the child’s gesture reminded her of the famous quote children’s television icon Mr. Rogers used when discussing tragedy.

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” Rogers said. “To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in the world.” 

Jessica Lawrence had a message for her own helpers.

“I see you, I love you and I appreciate you,” she wrote. “Thank you for giving me reason to continue to believe in the goodness of the world.”

One commenter wrote that he would not only give the girl a hug, but also make sure she gets all the ice cream she wants.

“I might have already paid the lunchroom for her ice cream for the rest of the week,” Price Lawrence responded. “Anonymously, of course.”

Texas superintendent threatens suspension for students who protest gun laws

A superintendent in a Texas school district near Houston threatened a three-day suspension for any student who walks out to protest current gun laws, the Houston Chronicle reported.

>> Read more trending news

Needville Independent School District Superintendent Curtis Rhodes sent letters to parents and posted on social media that an out-of-school suspension would be enforced. Students nationwide have been protesting in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last week that left 17 people -- including 14 students -- dead.

>> Armed Stoneman Douglas resource officer ‘never went in’ during shooting

"Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved," Rhodes wrote. "All will be suspended for 3 days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline."

Rhodes said notes from parents would not make a difference, The Washington Post reported.

“Respect yourself,” Rhodes wrote, “and please understand that we are here for an education and not a political protest.”

Student organizers in Florida are planning a March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., the Chronicle reported. A National School Walkout planned by Women's March organizers is set for March 14. A walkout is also scheduled on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. 

Rhodes said the school district is sensitive to violence in schools, but stressed that the students’ focus should be on education and not political protests, the Chronicle reported.

"A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally," Rhodes wrote. "A disruption of the school will not be tolerated."

The message was originally posted on Needville High School’s Facebook page but was taken down, Time reported. Screenshots of the letter were shared via social media.

Some Ohio school districts arm staff, but don't tell public 

Several school districts in Ohio have armed staff and teachers in an effort to prevent school shootings, but some of those districts have not told parents, students and taxpayers about the firearms in their buildings.

>> Read more trending news

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that if one of the victims, a football coach, in last week’s Florida school shooting had been armed “he would have shot and that would have been the end of it.”

The move to arm teachers is growing in Ohio, even if the public has no idea.

In August 2017 some superintendents said they are aware of districts that have armed staff and teachers without making the move public.

“It’s way more prevalent than people realize,” Mad River Schools Superintendent Chad Wyen said. His district trained and armed employees last year. “Sixty-three out of 88 counties in Ohio have a district with a response team.”

While some details — types and locations of weapons and names of trained staff — are undisclosed as part of Mad River’s safety plan, the mere fact that students and parents know guns are in the building is more information than other Ohio districts provide publicly.

“We decided to be transparent,” said Chris Burrow, superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village Schools in Brown County, east of Cincinnati, in a 2017 interview. “We went to training this summer, and there were districts that did not tell their communities.”

The superintendents did not specify which schools they knew implemented gun training but did not tell the public.

Burrow’s staff follows a path already blazed by Edgewood City Schools in Butler County, which adopted a concealed carry policy in 2013.

Superintendents who have armed their teachers and staff have largely expressed positive results.

“We had others that just had a lot of questions, especially people who are hesitant around guns,” Burrow said. “I did have a few staff members who said, ‘I don’t know if I can work here.’”

“We worked through it,” he said. “They weren’t as adamantly opposed as they were before.”

Four years after bringing guns into Sidney City Schools, Superintendent John Scheu said more than 90 percent of the staff who first volunteered have stayed with the program. He said the district has no issue finding educators willing to bear arms.

“As a matter of fact, we have a waiting list,” Scheu said.

Cartoonist shares heartbreaking drawing in wake of the Florida school shooting

As people around the nation are grappling with the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, Florida, one artist’s work is as heartbreaking as is it is healing.

Pia Guerra opened up about the moment she knew she had to memorialize at least one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims in her unique way.

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Parkland Florida school shooting victims

“It’s not often that an image pops in your brain and you feel a lump in your throat,” Guerra told The Washington Post. “I need to get this down before time dilutes it,” she recalled thinking in the early morning as she got the idea to create a sketch in honor of fallen hero Aaron Feis.

When the shooting started last Wednesday, Feis — a school security guard as well as assistant football coach — reportedly stepped between the shooter and students, taking bullets in the act. He was reportedly hospitalized before dying from his wounds.

>> WATCH: Florida school shooting survivors perform emotional song at CNN town hall

In Guerra's sketch, titled “Hero’s Welcome," a girl is taking Feis’ hand to lead him back to a crowd of people as she says, “Come on Mister Feis! So many of us want to meet you!”

>> See the image here

Although she considers herself an atheist and said the image isn’t meant to represent “angels and heaven,” Guerra, 46, wanted to capture the idea that “all these brave, beautiful, vibrant people should still be with us.”

“Wherever all these wonderful people are, they’re not here,” she told the Post. Guerra reportedly wanted to visually portray the sheer number of people lost in mass school shootings, while also leaving the image open for people to find their own meanings.

>> Marco Rubio faces a tough crowd during CNN's town hall for gun reform

“This is who they are. This is all that we lost,” she said, adding, “When you leave something open enough to interpretation, more people can find something in it.”

Although most people have been touched, Guerra’s tribute has drawn some ire from people who think she did not well-represent the various races of all those who died in mass shootings, rather than just white people.

“That was a direct result of rushing and not paying more attention to the makeup of the crowd, and maybe making a point about how these things always seem to happen in white suburbia and totally mucking it up,” Guerra said, promising to “do better.”

>> On Football coach died shielding students from gunfire during Florida high school shooting

In the past, Guerra has used her cartoons to vent, but this one was especially “emotional.” She plans on creating more of these works relating to the shooting, and encourages more people to remain involved in its aftermath.

“It’s more emotional, it’s more personal … a gut reaction,” she said. “This is a whole other level.”

>> Read more trending news 

She added: “We should be engaged in this. We should use our voices … whatever it is we have to amplify what’s important to us.”

Feis was one of three faculty members and 14 students killed on Valentine’s Day when authorities said former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire on his high school with an AR-15. He was arrested following the shooting and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. He is currently being held without bond.

(H/T Indy 100)

WATCH: Florida school shooting survivors perform emotional song at CNN town hall

Survivors of last week's deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, performed an emotional song Wednesday night to close a CNN town hall on gun control.

>> Watch the clip here

According to CNN, members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Drama Club wrote and performed the song, "Shine," at the event at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

>> Marco Rubio faces a tough crowd during CNN's town hall for gun reform

"You're not gonna knock us down / We'll get back up again / You may have hurt us but I promise we are stronger and / We're not gonna let you win / We're putting up a fight / You may have brought the dark / But together we will shine a light," the chorus says.

Minutes earlier, Max Schachter read a poem titled "Life Is Like a Rollercoaster" by his son, Alex, who was killed in the shooting. 

>> Watch the reading here

>> Read more trending news 

The tributes followed a heated town hall moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper and featuring lawmakers from Florida, including Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch also participated in the event.

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