CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — A group of students from Parkland, Fla., planted 17 trees thousands of miles away in New Zealand on Tuesday to commemorate each of those killed in one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
The 28 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were visiting New Zealand to learn more about sustaining youth movements. After planting the native totara trees they recounted memories of their former classmates and teachers in a ceremony that brought many to tears.
The Florida students were paired with members of New Zealand's Student Volunteer Army, which began helping citizens in Christchurch after a 2011 earthquake in the city killed 185 people.
While the tragedies came from different origins, both groups of students said they felt a common bond. Florida student Delaney Tarr said her strongest memory from the Feb. 14 shooting was a feeling of fear.
"We will never be able to really experience Valentine's Day, to experience school, to experience life in the same way that we used to," she said.
"And while that is heartbreaking, we've tried to make the most out of it. We've tried so hard to make some positive change out of something that never should have affected us, never should have affected anyone. And ultimately, that's why we are here now. Not as much to mourn the past but as to look forward to the future."
Former student Nikolas Cruz is suspected in the killings and has been arrested on 17 counts of first-degree murder.