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Parkland honors shooting victims: 'We shouldn't have to experience this'

By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes
1/15
Parkland honors shooting victims: 'We shouldn't have to experience this'
Mourners gather at a remembrance service at an amphitheater in Parkland, Fla., Thursday to honor the 17 children and adults killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this week. Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Hundreds of mourners, including the parents of some students shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, gathered to remember the children in a candlelight vigil Thursday night.

The prayer service at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, Fla., honored the teenagers and adults shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the day earlier. Authorities say a former student opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle at the South Florida campus -- leaving 17 dead and several more injured.

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The former student, Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

"I'm deeply hurt for the people that we've lost," resident William Cody said at Thursday's sunset service. "For a country as great as America is, we shouldn't have to experience this in our life. And I'd never expect something to hit so close to home."

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Cody's wife, Chelsea Briggs, a teacher at the high school, helped escort students to safety during Wednesday's attack.

"I hunt, I fish. There's no reason why these guns should be on the market," Cody added. "These are military-issued weapons. They should not be allowed to the public to be handled."

The AR-15 assault rifle is the slightly modified, civilian version of the military M-16.

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"It's just wrong. It just makes no sense. It just doesn't make sense," Cody continued. "These things shouldn't be happening."

The stage at the Pine Trails Park amphitheater featured 17 ornamental angels -- each 4 feet tall, borrowed from the nearby city of Sunrise, Fla. -- which were used five years ago to honor victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"Unfortunately, we have to use them again," said Sunrise city employee Kevin Pickard. "We didn't think we'd need them so close to home."

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President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited patients still undergoing treatment at Broward Health North hospital in Pompano Beach, Fla. They also met with Dr. Igor Nichiporenko.

"It's sad something like that could happen," the president said.

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He praised how quickly first responders reacted to the emergency.

Earlier, Donald Trump said he's "working with Congress on many fronts," but did not elaborate.

Among those in attendance at Thursday's vigil was Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Wednesday afternoon.

"Don't tell me there's no such thing as gun violence," he said. "It happened in Parkland. What is unfathomable is that Jamie took a bullet and is dead."

The prevailing sentiment at the vigil was shock, that such a brutal attack could occur in a South Florida municipality of gated communities, winding roads and calm. Many of Parkland's 31,000 residents used to live in New York City -- and Parkland was once named the safest city in Florida.

"People used to boast about how this was the safest town in Florida," said 14-year-old Ava DiGillo, who heard the shots on Wednesday from her middle school next to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. "No place is safe anymore."

Few people at the vigil brought signs with political messages, but one carried by Tighe Barry read, "NRA Stop Killing Our Kids."

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On Friday, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said the school district has proposed tearing down the building where the shooting happened. He said he agreed Building 12, which can hold 900 students, should never be used again.

"We've received numerous requests from parents, students, community members and local elected officials that they would like the building demolished and some memorial resurrected on the site," he told the Sun Sentinel.

Florida legislators said they'd provide the resources needed to have the building demolished.

"These kids are not going to go back into that building ever again," state Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat, said.

State Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Republican, said it could cost between $25 million and $30 million to replace the building.

"We need to take a serious look at tearing down that building and build a facility that these kids could return to and be proud of," he told The Miami Herald.

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