The senior class from the Florida high school where 17 people died in February’s gun massacre held graduation ceremonies Sunday afternoon, with the focus on honoring four students slain in the attack.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will present diplomas to the families of Nicholas Dworet, Joaquin Oliver, Meadow Pollack, and Carmen Schentrup at the event that began about 2 p.m. The school principal, Ty Thompson, underscored the honors to the four slain students in a tweet Sunday.
“Remember those not with us, and celebrate all the successes the Class of 2018 has brought to the community and the world!” Thompson tweeted.
The ceremony for the 784 members of the Class of 2018 was being held at the BB&T Center, where the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers play. It was moved to the arena to accommodate the expected large crowd.
The Broward School District is keeping the event private. Only invited guests will be admitted, and the media has been barred from inside the arena.
Fourteen students and three staff members died in the Feb. 14 attack. A former Stoneman Douglas student, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is charged with their deaths and the wounding of 17. His attorneys have said he will plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Some parents of slain students said they would not attend graduation.
Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack, said he is too emotionally spent to attend the ceremony. Meadow’s brother, boyfriend and cousins will accept her diploma. Her brother, Hunter Pollack, made his feelings about the day known on Twitter.
“Today is the day my sister has been waiting for. Graduation where she would’ve been getting her diploma and be on her way to attend college. This is a sad day, as I will be walking stage to get her diploma for her,” his post says.
Andrew Pollack has been an outspoken critic of school and law enforcement officials, saying they failed to protect his daughter and the others, but that’s not why he is staying away.
“It has nothing to do with them,” Pollack told The Associated Press by phone Sunday. “I’ve just been dead inside since Feb. 14.”
Instead, he is headed to central Florida where he will be addressing this week the armed guards one district has hired for its schools.
April Schentrup, whose daughter Carmen Schentrup was among the 17 killed in the shooting, posted a photo of Carmen wearing her graduation gown and cap, the SunSentinel reported .
“For me, it is too painful to celebrate w/o Carmen,” she said in an online post. “But I am proud of Carmen’s friends & classmates on their accomplishments. They’ve overcome so much. I know they will cont to make positive changes.”
As families arrived for the ceremony, gunshots from a nearby public shooting range could be heard echoing over the parking lot.
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, contributed to this story.