Photo: ©AFP

Parkland (United States) (AFP) – With tears, fears and defiance, students made an emotional return Wednesday to their Florida high school where a former classmate went on a shooting rampage two weeks ago, killing 17 people.

Students at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, were greeted by heavy security and scores of well-wishers as they returned to classes.

Dozens of police officers lined the sidewalks saying “Good morning” to each student and former students, neighbors and their children turned out to show their support.

Two women handed out free water and fruit for breakfast. Retired police officers passed out flowers.

People held banners reading “We Love You,” “You’ve Got This” and “We Are With You.”

“I’m not scared,” Sean Cummings, 16, a Stoneman Douglas junior, told AFP. “I feel like it’s more protected than any other school at this point.

“But it’s still weird to see everybody here and all these police officers,” Cummings said. “It’s going to be nice to see all my teachers again.”

Carly Novell, another Stoneman Douglas student, admitted that she was “nervous.”

“I’m really scared to go in,” said Novell, who like many other returning students was wearing a maroon T-shirt, the school colors.

Lauren Hogg, a freshman, told CNN the experience was “surreal.”

“To be quite frank, I’m scared,” she said, expressing fear of “going back into my classes and seeing empty chairs where my friends once sat.”

On Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz entered the school and opened fire with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, killing 14 students and three staff members.

– ‘I can take down buildings’ –

Since the shooting, Stoneman Douglas students have been lobbying politicians for stricter gun controls both in their home state of Florida and in Washington.

Republican lawmakers, with majorities in the US Congress and the Florida legislature, have been cool on bringing in major reforms on the sales of firearms.

Pressure however is growing on businesses.

On Wednesday, Dick’s Sporting Goods, a large chain store, announced that it would immediatly stop selling assault-style rifles and would not sell guns to anyone under the age of 21.

Dick’s CEO Edward Stack said Cruz had purchased a shotgun at one of his stores in November and although it wasn’t the gun used in the shooting the chain would no longer sell semi-automatic weapons.

“Our view was if the kids can be brave enough to organize like this, we can be brave enough to take them out of here,” Stack said.

Speaking on CNN, Broward County school superintendent Robert Runcie said grief counselors were on hand for the day.

“We’re going to provide as much support as we can,” Runcie said. “We understand it is extremely difficult for our kids today.

“We believe our kids are ready,” he said. “Students are excited. As a family, they’re going to pull through it.

“If they don’t want to stay for the day, we will make arrangements for them to go wherever they need to.”

Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, turned out to show his support for increased security in schools.

Accompanied by his therapy dog Sunny, Pollack said he was determined to be the “face of the last father of a murdered kid.” 

“When someone murders your kid, shoots her nine times… it’s not courage,” Pollack said. “I have a flame in me right now. Nobody can stop me. I can take down buildings.

“We need to make it that every kid in America, when he goes into a classroom , he knows he’s safe,” he said. “That’s my goal.” 

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