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Demolition of Parkland classroom building where 17 died in 2018 shooting begins

PARKLAND, Fla. — A large excavator stretched to the top floor of the three-story classroom building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, making a loud wrenching sound as it punched out a window early Friday as the long-awaited demolition project got underway.

Several victims’ family members stood about 100 yards away in the school’s parking lot holding their cellphones to take photos and video of the event.

Nearby, Dylan Persaud, who was a student in 2018, watched as the destruction began.

Persaud had been standing near the freshman building when the shooting started that day. He lost seven long-time friends and his geography teacher, Scott Beigel, in the shooting.

“I’d like to see it gone,” he said. “It puts a period on the end of the story. They should put a nice memorial there for the 17.”

The victims’ families were invited to watch the first blows and hammer off a piece themselves if they choose. Officials plan to complete the weekslong project before the school’s 3,300 students return in August from summer vacation. Most were in elementary school when the shooting happened.

The building had been kept up to serve as evidence at the shooter’s 2022 penalty trial. Jurors toured its bullet-pocked and blood-stained halls, but spared him a death sentence. He is serving a term of life without parole.

Broward County is not alone in taking down a school building after a mass shooting. In Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary School was torn down after the 2012 shooting and replaced. In Texas, officials closed Robb Elementary in Uvalde after the 2022 shooting there and plan to demolish it. Colorado’s Columbine High had its library demolished after the 1999 shooting.

Over the last year, some victims’ relatives have led Vice President Kamala Harris, members of Congress, school officials, police officers and about 500 other invitees from around the country on tours of the building. They mostly demonstrated how improved safety measures like bullet-resistant glass in door windows, a better alarm system and doors that lock from the inside could have saved lives.

Those who have taken the tour have called it gut-wrenching as something of a time capsule of Feb. 14, 2018. Textbooks and laptops sat open on desks, and wilted Valentine’s Day flowers, deflated balloons and abandoned teddy bears were scattered amid broken glass. Those objects have now been removed.

U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, an alumnus of the school, said in a statement Friday that the community was forever changed by the shooting.

“I never thought I’d see the high school where I graduated from turned into a war zone. What I’ve seen in that building is truly haunting — windows with bullet holes, homework scattered everywhere, blood in the hallway,” Moskowitz said. “The people of Parkland will no longer have to pass by this horrific reminder of our grief. The families of those innocent lives taken that day will never be able to move on, just move forward.”

The Broward County school board has not decided what the building will be replaced with. Teachers suggested a practice field for the band, Junior ROTC and other groups, connected by a landscaped pathway to a nearby memorial that was erected a few years ago. Several of the students killed belonged to the band or Junior ROTC.

Some parents want the site turned into a memorial.

Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina died that day, said in a statement that the demolition is “a necessary part of moving forward.” He has advocated for school safety programs and a memorial site.

“While we can never erase the pain and the memories, we can create a space that honors their legacy and fosters hope for a safer future,” he said. “That’s why we fight every day to pass meaningful legislation that keeps our family members safe in their school.”

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