NewsParkland Shooting


'The memory will never go away,' Broward County superintendent says 6 years after Parkland massacre

Building where Feb. 14, 2018 mass shooting happened to be demolished in June
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 9, 2024.PNG
Posted at 5:57 AM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 05:57:56-05

PARKLAND, Fla. — Wednesday marks six years since 17 lives were cut tragically short when a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

As time goes by, the scars remain just as deep for those who were at the school on Valentine's Day 2018.

School Shooting Florida
Parents and other family members of the 17 people murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School release doves at a memorial service on the sixth anniversary of the massacre in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Spencer)


"I lived in this in-between space for a really long time, because it's really hard to get over something like that, especially when you are so young," said Alexander Athanasiou, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni.

Athanasiou turned 23 on Wednesday.

"I have to acknowledge that, yeah, it's my birthday. But also the day one of the most tragic things happened in my life," Athanasiou said.

Athanasiou was a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, the day a former classmate murdered 17 people on campus, injured 17 others, and changed countless lives forever.

"Tell me about the journey that you've been on since that happened," WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Athanasiou.

"The shooting happened during a theater rehearsal. And I didn't really acknowledge this for a long time, but I think I held a lot of anxiety or apprehension in general of wanting to do theater because of it," Athanasiou answered.

WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind speaks to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni Alexander Athanasiou on Feb. 9, 2024.PNG
WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind speaks to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni Alexander Athanasiou on Feb. 9, 2024.

It's been a long road of healing and self discovery for Athanasiou, one that is bringing him back to his true love: being on the stage. He has a lead role in "Spelling Bee" and is now enrolled as a freshman at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

"Being in theater again — even though there is a looming feeling of uncomfortableness because of the shooting — I tried to get away from that for so long and be normal. But I'm not normal. And that's just a part of it," Athanasiou said.

Athanasiou took some time off after high school. He moved to North Carolina for a few years and worked a few different jobs, but came back to South Florida in 2023.

"I need to find myself again. I need to remind myself who I am," Athanasiou said.

Athanasiou enrolled at FAU in the fall of 2023.

"There was this background kind of static feeling of uncomfortableness, because I never fully acknowledged and digested what happened," Athanasiou said. "I feel insecure when people pity me. So there's a lot of self work I have to do just to have conversations about it. PTSD is not something you can ever recover from. You can assist yourself with coping mechanisms and know what to do when you are having a panic attack, or know what to do when you are having these moments, know how to ground yourself and be back in the moment. But you never fully get over PTSD."

Also navigating how to live with this tragedy is the new superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, Dr. Peter Licata.

"It's a learning experience for listening. This is a trauma not many people go through. And you have to hear every word they say. And it's hard," Licata said.

Licata was a longtime leader in the School District of Palm Beach County before taking the helm in Broward County.

"What kind of difference have you felt from going from Palm Beach County to now being in Broward and being a part of it?" Susskind asked Licata.

"You felt a little more of it," Licata answered. "But there was a drastic change that once you got here, it was the epicenter of evil that happened on a campus. And you understand the responsibility to the community to make sure it's safe."

Superintendent Dr. Peter Licata of Broward County Public Schools speaks to WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind on Feb. 9, 2024 (1).jpg
Superintendent Dr. Peter Licata of Broward County Public Schools speaks to WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind on Feb. 9, 2024.

Learning how to talk about his experience is helping Athanasiou focus on the positive.

"I don't think I would be here right now with as much passion for what I want to do and what I want to succeed in in my life without this tragedy present," Athanasiou said.

Now Athanasiou is back to being the star of his own life.

"How long does it take to get over something like this? I think it's not a linear path. I think everyone has their own twisty, windy, over a hill, under an underpass path. And accepting and understanding that's life and that's how its going to be is, I think, step one to getting over stuff for sure. Step two is walking that path."

Athanasiou feels there still needs to be more change in our country to stop these shootings from happening again. He said more education about firearms and support for those with special needs and mental health challenges are places to start.

"We really screamed to the heavens that change needs to happen, and what has changed? There have been changes in legislation, absolutely. But realistically, we still have shootings all across America," Athanasiou said.

Licata said a big part of his job has been managing the building where the shooting happened, and its future. The building will be demolished in June when school is out.

"I've been through the building four times. As we walk through and bringing certain dignitaries, making sure that people who have an impact to make schools safer, that have the power of the pen and the budget to make changes," Licata said. "The first time I walked through it, it stuns you. You are in a different place. You really couldn't comprehend it, but to see the damage that was inflicted. The second time I walked through, I was angry. I was really angry because I know it could have been prevented. And so many people feel that way. The third and fourth time became learning. What more can I think about? What more can I do as a superintendent? That building needs to come down. It's time. The memory will never go away. It's etched in my brain."