Parkland shooting, COVID-19 bookend high school years for seniors

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Three years ago, on Valentine’s Day, a mass shooting at their Florida high school linked them forever. Now, a pandemic is keeping them apart for the biggest year of their young lives.

The seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are finishing out their education at home, isolated from the friends they made huddled under desks as a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle roamed their school, The Associated Press reported.

When they finally came out of hiding, they learned Nikolas Cruz had fatally shot 17 students and staff, and wounded 17 more. Cruz admits he was the gunman but refuses to plead guilty unless prosecutors take the death penalty off the table.

A handful of students like David Hogg became gun control activists, speaking at rallies and giving TV interviews. But most have simply tried to get back to some kind of normalcy.

Abby Price moved away from Parkland, an affluent Miami suburb, to get a fresh start. She and her family have called North Carolina their home since her junior year.

Abby lost her best friend, Alyssa Alhadeff, on that day, Feb. 14, 2018. They dreamed about the future. They played soccer together. They even shared a birthday.

“I struggled every morning to wake up and go to the school where I lost so many friends,” she told the AP. “I struggled to find a purpose of just doing simple tasks in life without my best friend by my side.”

Price was worried about making friends, but she did. Then, the coronavirus outbreak upended her new world.

“I started to lose myself again,” Price said.

Samara Barrack tried to make sense of how some of her classmates coped with the shooting.

“I saw people that were like, ‘I just need to get high’ or ‘I just need to paint,’” she said. “Neither of those things would help me.”

Still, Barrack craves being closer to those who shared those frightening hours with her.

“Even if I’m not best friends with those people, it’s an experience,” she said.

This summer, Barrack is headed the University of Central Florida. Others, too, are hoping college will bring the high school experiences they never had.

But Aria Siccone has no plans to further her education — at least not now. She’s sure she couldn’t deal with walking across campus or living in a dorm since she can’t stand even going to the movies.

“People say college experience is the best time in their life, and I wish I could do that. But at the same time I know I wouldn’t be able to handle it,” she told AP.

The former honors student worries she’ll get stuck in a dead-end job without a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s scary to think about because going to college is the normal path,” she said, “and I just want to have the normal path.”

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