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MSD students return to school for first day of new year, while victims' families mourn

Posted: 6:14 PM, Aug 15, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-16 11:45:33-04
MSD students return to school for new year

The first day of the 2018-2019 school year for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students was an emotional one, but it was especially so for Tony Montalto, whose daughter will never get to take another annual first day of school picture.

"Very troubling not to be able to have our daughter able to do that," he said.

Montalto said his daughter, Gina, should've been getting ready for another year of color guard and looking forward to learning to drive as she was supposed to be going into her sophomore year right now.

"Gina was an excellent student," he said. "She had a close to a 4.0, if not above, grade point average."

Gina was among 17 people shot and killed at Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14. She died before completing her freshman year.

"It's a challenge," Montalto said. "Some days it seems like she walked out of that door yesterday. Other days, it's such a whirlwind of activism we found ourselves in unplanned."

Montalto said the 17 victims' families have joined together under Stand With Parkland, The National Association of Families for Safe Schools, to push for safer schools on multiples governmental levels.

"Where we had the most success was where all 17 of us spoke with one voice," Montalto said.

Montalto wants to see safer campuses, better mental health screenings, support programs for people who need additional help and more responsible firearms ownership.

"All of us need to come together to have a discussion, to listen to each other, to talk with one another, to find where we agree and then take those consensus positions and move those forward into law or policy, whichever it fits into best to make our children safer in school," he said. "This is an American epidemic. It’s an American problem."

While victims' families continue their own activism in honor of their loved ones, survivors returned to school for the new year Wednesday.

"A lot of us are feeling the same emotions," said Jessica Rosenstack, a senior. "We just don't admit it because we're nervous that the other person doesn't feel that."

Jessica started a website over the summer called Stoneman Douglas Support Group , where MSD students can anonymously ask questions and post comments about their feelings.

“You have no clue about anything on February 14 about how many of the students felt unless you were there, so I was like I wish there was a way where I can speak to not only more students, because before I was only talking to my friends about it, but also in an anonymous way," she said.

Jessica said she still gets anxious and paranoid at times, but she felt comfortable with security at MSD for the first day of school because there were security guards around campus and a single point of entry.

However, she said some students are nervous about upcoming fire drills because the fire alarm went off as the shooting was happening. She posted about it on her website to start a conversation.

"As the year goes on, people are going to start to realize what we went through and comprehended the impact of it and become more nervous," Jessica said.

She hopes students turn to each other to cope.