Florida school shooting: 'Angels' greet students in emotional return to site of massacre

Thousands of students at the Florida school where 17 of their classmates and teachers were shot dead made an  emotional return to collect their belongings, as a national debate over how to protect children from gun  violence continued to rage. 

The pupils and parents walked solemnly but resolutely through the gates of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, nearly two weeks after former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, entered the three-storey building and opened fire with a rifle.

The students returned for an orientation ahead of Wednesday’s reopening. The school was still covered in flowers and memorials honouring those shot dead. Pupil Janna Volz, 16, said it was “nerve-racking” to be back at the school. “Just seeing the building was scary,” said Francesca Lozano as she exited the building with her mother. Still, she was happy to see her friends. “That made it a lot better.” 

The students were greeted by 17 people dressed as angels standing beside a makeshift memorial outside. Organiser Terry Decarlo said the white costumes were sent to every mass shooting and disaster so that the survivors “know angels are looking over them and protecting them”. Many of those dressed as angels at Stoneman Douglas were survivors of the 2016 mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, where 49 people died. 

Seventeen people dressed as angels welcome parents and students to the school (REUTERS)

The students were allowed back yesterday to collect the bags and other belongings left behind as they fled the massacre. Some pupils have declared they will not return until politicians have taken action to curtail gun ownership.

The debate over how to protect children from gun violence in the United States intensified today as Ivanka Trump admitted that she did not know whether her father’s proposal to arm teachers would work. 

People dressed as angels at the site of the Florida school shooting (AP)

Her lukewarm response to the US president’s plan raised new questions over the mixed messages from the White House in the aftermath of the school shooting.

In an interview in South Korea, where she was attending the closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics, Ms Trump answered “I don’t know,” when asked if she would be comfortable knowing that a teacher educating one of her three children was in possession of a gun in the classroom. 

“Obviously, there would have to be an incredibly high standard for who would be able to bear arms in our school. But I think there is no one solution for creating safety,” she added.

Mr Trump’s 36-year-old eldest daughter continued: “I think that having a teacher who is armed who cares deeply about her students or his students and who is capable and qualified to bear arms is not a bad idea, but it is an idea that needs to be discussed.’

Watch: Father of Florida victim gives powerfully rousing speech to Donald Trump

Mr Trump tweeted the proposal in the immediate aftermath of the Florida massacre. He suggested new legislation mandating that 20 per cent of teachers should carry guns in the classroom, rewarded with a yearly cash bonus.

While Ivanka may have been hedging her bets, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott did not hold back in his objections, despite being a close political ally. “I disagree with him,” Governor Scott said on Fox News yesterday. “I believe you’ve got to focus on people that are well trained law enforcement that are trained to do this.”

Powerful lobby group the US National Rifle Association has said that it does not support a gun ban following the Florida attack.

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