Demolition of 2018 Parkland Shooting Range begins

PARKLAND, Florida (AP) — A large excavator reached the top floor of the three-story building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the first hole was punched Friday in the classroom where teacher Scott Beigel died while saving students.

At the start of weeks-long demolition, the excavator made a whining, tearing noise as it tore concrete from the building, now no longer needed as evidence in the shooter's trial. Family members of some of the victims stood 300 feet away, holding up their cellphones to record the moment.

Linda Beigel Schulman, the geography teacher's mother, was not among them – she stayed home in New York. She toured the building last year and saw that the comparative religion papers he was grading when the shooting started that Valentine's Day were still on his desk. Beigel, who was also a cross-country coach, went into the hallway and herded students into his classroom for safety, doing so as the gunman approached until he was shot.

She is happy that the building is being demolished, but has no desire to witness it.

“Scott was comfortable there. He loved teaching there. He loved the kids, he loved everything about the school there. He loved coaching there,” Beigel Schulman told the Associated Press. “And then it's probably the saddest place I can imagine. He thrived there and he died there.”

Families of the victims were asked to chip away a piece of the building before demolition began. Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa died, was one of those who did so because she found it cathartic.

“Hammering on the building helped me ease some of my pain,” said Alhadeff, who was elected to the Broward County School Board after her daughter's death on a promise to improve campus safety and is now its chairwoman.

Authorities plan to complete the demolition and cleanup before the school's 3,300 students return from summer vacation in August. It was not demolished to protect the school's other buildings. Most of the school's current students were in elementary school at the time of the shooting.

Since the shooting, the building has loomed over campus, enclosed behind a screened fence that blocks the ground floor. It was preserved to serve as evidence in the shooter's criminal trial in 2022. Jurors toured the bullet-riddled and blood-stained halls but spared him a Death sentenceHe is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Last year, relatives of some victims Vice President Kamala Harris, Members of CongressFBI Director Christopher Wray, school officials, police officers and other invited guests from across the country gave tours of the building, demonstrating how improved security measures such as bulletproof glass in door windows, a better alarm system and doors that could be locked from the inside could have saved lives.

Those who took the tour described it as heartbreaking, a kind of time capsule of 14 February 2018. School books and laptops were left open on desks, and wilted Valentine's flowers, deflated balloons, and abandoned teddy bears lay scattered among broken glass. These items were removed before demolition began.

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex died, said on Friday that he was aware that the tours he helped organize would save lives as authorities would use their findings to better protect schools in their jurisdiction.

“Safety in schools must be the top priority because you cannot teach dead children,” he said.

The demolition begins drew about two dozen spectators standing just outside campus, including Dylan Persaud, who was a student in 2018. He had been standing near the building when the shooting started and lost seven longtime friends and Beigel, whose class he had taken. He was glad when the building collapsed.

“This puts an end to history. They should build a beautiful monument there for the 17,” said Persaud.

Joanne Wallace, a former special education teacher at the school, watched the building's demolition with mixed feelings. She found the tours helpful, but also knows that the building's existence brought back painful memories for the victims' families.

“I hope this gives the families some peace and comfort,” said Wallace, who was in the parking lot when the shooting started, helping her students wait for their parents at the end of the school day.

Broward County is not the only county to demolish a school building after a mass shooting. In Connecticut Sandy Hook Elementary School was demolished and replaced after the 2012 shooting. In Texas, authorities closed Robb Elementary School in Uvalde after the shooting in 2022 and plan to demolish it. Colorado's Columbine College The library was destroyed after the shooting in 1999.

The Broward County School Board has not yet decided what to replace the building with. Teachers suggested a practice area for the band, Junior ROTC and other groups, connected by a landscaped path to a nearby memorial erected several years ago. Several of the students killed were members of the band or Junior ROTC.

Alhadeff said the school district would build something useful there for future students, a sentiment Schachter and Beigel Schulman supported.

“I want a place where kids can go and be happy, not a place where kids go and remember and be sad,” Beigel Schulman said. “No one will ever forget what happened in that building. They can't erase it. But they can replace it with something good.”