Hearts are heavy, attendance is light at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

On the anniversary of Florida’s deadliest school shooting, the media trucks and cameras lined up as long as a train outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School vastly outnumbered students on foot walking to school.

Keondre Edge had noticed fewer people coming to school in the days leading up to Thursday, which marked a year since a former student came to the school and fatally shot 17 students and staff members and injured 17 more. Valentine’s Day has forever taken on a different meaning in South Florida.

“It might be depressing for some, but for others, it may be an opportunity to help,” the 15-year-old freshman said.

Absences were excused for those who couldn’t bear to attend Stoneman Douglas’ “Day of Service and Love,” a short day for students to serve breakfast to first responders and pack meals for undernourished children. Therapy dogs and counselors are on site for students and staff, as well as manicures, massages, and healthy cooking demonstrations provided by the Broward County school district’s technical colleges.

Many of the families of the victims told the Miami Herald last week that they planned to spend the day privately.

About eight school buses turned into the school at dawn, but hardly anyone seemed to be on board for a school of more than 3,000 students. There was a steady stream of cars turning into the school for drop off, checked in by a school staff member at the gate.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” the guard said to an incoming car.

The few who came on foot looked rushed and bothered, muttering at the media across the street. Nearly everyone wore the school’s signature commemorative maroon shirt with the hashtag #MSDSTRONG.

A Guardian Angel named Vito, who leaves his home in Jupiter well before dawn to stand outside Stoneman Douglas in his shiny red bomber jacket and cap, came back to the school for the first time in 2019. He noticed fewer people coming to the school; some often thank him for his service.

“It’s kind of a solemn day,” he said. “I don’t blame them for not saying anything.”

One woman walking in with her son did stop and talk to Vito.

“Some of the kids, they just don’t want to come to school today,” Vito said she told him. “She told her son you should be there to support your peers.”

Freshman Matthew Veerasammy, 14, said it was tough to come to the school his sister and father graduated from on the anniversary.

“It’s hard knowing 17 lives were lost,” he said. “Together as an MSD community we’re going to try to push through it. Not to mourn but to celebrate the lives that were lost.”

Superintendent Robert Runcie was scheduled to hold a media briefing at 9:15 a.m. A moment of silence will be observed at all Broward public schools at 10:17 a.m. The school will dismiss at 11:40 a.m. and close at noon.

An interfaith ceremony for the community to honor the victims will be held at Pine Trails Park, 10555 Trails End in Parkland, at 5:45 p.m. Lyft is offering free round-trip rides up to $20 to the service with the code MSDSTRONG2019.