In a corner of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, one of the memorials is so dense with tributes and flowers in honor of the victims that the perfume is felt in the distance.
Tanzil Philip is 16 years old and is afraid to go to his school in Florida. This Wednesday, he sits down again in a desk for the first time since he had to flee, running and holding his hands up, because a man was riddling his classmates and teachers with bullets.
“I do not know how I’m going to feel, it’s very crazy, there are so many different emotions,” Philip said in front of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, north of Miami.
“I’m scared and I’m also happy to regain some sense of normalcy, but I do not know how I’ll feel when I get back there without my parents and we’re all sitting down.”
On February 14, Philip and his friends evacuated the school after Nikolas Cruz, 19, killed 17 people with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle. Since then, Philip only returned on Sunday, to attend a voluntary orientation for students and teachers.
“It was very strange to return, everything was frozen in time, it was as if nothing had changed in the buildings,” he told AFP. “It is very sad”.
And he said that this Wednesday will be even sadder: “I already know that we’re going to be there talking about that”.
But, according to experts, that is exactly what needs to be done. Talk about that.
“The most important thing is to say, ‘Look, we’re going to have this conversation, we’re here to talk to you and answer your questions,'” said psychiatrist Nicole Mavrides, a professor at the University of Miami and specializing in children and adolescents.
It is necessary to “ask them what they remember, what they know, how they feel, if they have questions about what happened”.
The specialist told AFP that it will be difficult for Parkland students to return to school, but “you have to let them know that nobody is waiting for them to be easy, you have to tell them that it’s okay to be afraid and it’s good to feel Rage”.
Police officers from Broward County receive teachers and workers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in preparation for Wednesday’s return of students in Parkland, Florida on February 27, 2018.
After such trauma the individual may suffer an “acute stress reaction,” said Mavrides. If the symptoms – nightmares, vivid memories – last longer than a month, it can be post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
– Do not bring the backpack –
That is why teachers, therapists and religious focus on helping students get emotions out.
“Looking forward to tomorrow,” the school’s principal, Ty Thompson, wrote to the students on Tuesday afternoon. “Remember that our focus will be emotional preparation and comfort, not the curriculum: there is no need for them to bring their backpacks, come ready to begin the healing process.”
On Saturday, the director promised to embrace each of his 3,300 students if they wanted to. “We will overcome this together,” he said. The next day, when they went to school to retrieve the belongings they had left when fleeing the shooting, Thompson kept his word.
Experts recommend talking with Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school students about the shooting.
“I’ll be strong, I’m a little nervous but we have to be strong in these situations,” said Jenna Korsten, a 17-year-old student who survived the attack. “We are family and we have to be together in this,” he told AFP in front of the school.
The fence that borders the institution is covered with stuffed animals, candles and posters that, with children’s calligraphy, put messages like “no to arms”.
In one corner, the 17 white crosses with the names of the 14 students and three deceased employees are so overflowing with flowers that the perfume is felt from several meters back.
As soon as it became known on February 14 that a shootout had just occurred, reports of religious services and free “dueling therapists” began to spread, both in and around Parkland.
The University of Miami, for example, still sends experts from its Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences to assist victims, relatives and survivors.
Dr. Mavrides belongs to this team, although she did not personally attend to the mourners, but her students.
“This is new for everyone, there is no script, there is not a book about what people can do with this,” said the doctor. The return to normal “will not happen overnight.”