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

Jun 13, 2024, 9:19 PM | Updated: Jun 14, 2024, 10:28 am

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) — A large excavator stretched to the top floor of the three-story building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, punching its first hole Friday into the classroom where teacher Scott Beigel perished saving students.

Beginning a weekslong demolition, the excavator made a whiny, wrenching noise as it broke off concrete from the building, now no longer needed as evidence in the shooter’s trial. Some victims’ family members stood 100 yards (90 meters) away, holding up their cellphones to record the moment.

Linda Beigel Schulman, the geography teacher’s mother, was not among them — she stayed home in New York. She toured the building last year, seeing the comparative religion papers he was grading when the shooting began that Valentine’s Day still sitting on his desk. Beigel, who also coached cross-country, went into the hallway and herded students to safety in his classroom, doing that as the gunman approached until he was shot.

She’s glad the building is coming down, but had no desire to witness it.

“It was Scott’s happy place. He loved teaching there. He loved the kids, he loved everything about the school there. He loved coaching,” Beigel Schulman told The Associated Press. “And then it is probably the saddest place that could ever be for me. He thrived there and he died there.”

The victims’ families were invited to hammer off a piece of the building before the demolition began. Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa died, was one who did, finding it cathartic.

“Hammering away at the building helped to release some of my pain,” said Alhadeff, who was elected to the Broward County school board after her daughter’s death on a pledge to improve campus safety. She is now its chair.

Officials plan to complete the demolition and cleanup before the school’s 3,300 students return in August from summer vacation — to protect the school’s other buildings, it wasn’t imploded. Most of the school’s current students were in elementary school when the shooting happened.

Since the shooting, the building has loomed over campus, locked behind a screened fence that blocked the bottom floor. It was 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 sentence of life without parole.

Over the last year, some victims’ relatives have led Vice President Kamala Harris, members of Congress, FBI Director Christopher Wray, school officials, police officers and 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 flowers, deflated balloons and abandoned teddy bears were scattered amid broken glass. Those objects were removed before demolition began.

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died, said Friday that he knows the tours he helped organize will save lives as officials take what they learned and use it to harden schools in their jurisdictions.

“You have to prioritize school safety because you can’t teach dead children,” he said.

The demolition’s start drew about two dozen spectators who stood just off campus, including Dylan Persaud, who was a student in 2018. He had been standing near the building when the shooting started, and lost seven long-time friends and Beigel, whose class he took. He was glad to see the building coming down.

“It puts a period on the end of the story. They should put a nice memorial there for the 17,” Persaud said.

Joanne Wallace, a former special education teacher at the school, had mixed feelings watching the building’s demolition — she thought the tours were helpful, but knows the building’s existence brought painful memories to the victims’ families.

“I hope this gives the families a bit of peace and comfort,” Wallace said. When the shooting started, she had been in the parking lot helping her students wait for their parents at the end of the school day.

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.

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.

Alhadeff said the school district will put something there that is useful for future students — a sentiment Schachter and Beigel Schulman seconded.

“I want a place where kids can go and be happy, not a place where kids will go and remember and be sad,” Beigel Schulman said. “Nobody will ever forget what happened in that building. They can’t wipe it away. But they can replace with something that is good.”

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