By: Sharon Aron Baron
Volunteers worked through the day organizing and archiving precious mementos from the temporary memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
“Volunteers, please sign in over here,” said Parkland Historical Society President Jeff Schwartz, who then led volunteers to a portable building to go over the proper procedure to pack and archive items.
Before items were gathered at the memorial site, a committee made up of members of the community was formed to make sure this was handled properly and appropriately said city spokesperson Todd DeAngelis. First, the committee reached out to the 17 families of the deceased to make sure they had their support on not only what they were doing, but how they were doing it, and when they were doing it.
Led by Schwartz, who reached out to the people who handled the memorial at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, he was assisted by others including Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni, a local elementary school principal, and spiritual leaders. The committee then came together to ensure they were handling the process properly.
Volunteer Ella Singer, a freshman at the school who lost friends Jamie Guttenberg and Cara Loughran said, “I feel that helping out today is benefitting my community. I lost two friends and I feel like coming out here today is also paying respect for them.”
Wednesday’s efforts is about removing the items, archiving them, and preserving them for the long-term. DeAngelis said there’s some competing interests: in the short-term, there is the need to heal and grieve and in the long-term, they want to preserve these items.
“They’re exposed to the sunlight, morning dew, rain, wind, and if we leave them out here any longer, we won’t be able to preserve them. So that’s why we’re acting today,” said DeAngelis.
Most of the flowers will be burned, and that ash will be mixed with soil which will then be used in landscaping throughout the city. “So in that regard, they’ll never leave the city,” he said.
Some items may not be able to be saved, but other items will, and volunteers were taking it one step at a time.
Their next step will be storing them at Florida Atlantic University in conditions where they no longer deteriorate with proper air conditioning and humidity control, and after that they’ll determine what will happen to them long-term.
Shelley Luna, her husband and children, who were on vacation from Chanhassen, Minnesota, were heading to the Everglades but both her son, 13, and daughter 14, and a freshman in high school, wanted to stop by and see the memorial first. When they arrived, they saw the volunteer effort going on and decided to pitch in.
“Devastated when we heard about this,” Luna said through tears. “I can’t imaging sending my child to school and not having her come back home. So after this happened, this just changes you completely. I just hug my children more before they leave in the morning and think about it. It’s in the back of my mind. You shouldn’t have to ever think that they might not come home.”
No one knows what the next step is for the memorized items. DeAngelis said that Mayor Hunschofsky and the commissioners will make that decision.
He said. “It’s a step by step process. Not something we’ve ever done before. Not something we’ve ever expected to have to do. But we’ll take it a step at a time and see how long it’s there.”