March for Our Lives Gainesville held its fourth annual vigil Monday on the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
The vigil, held at the Plaza of the Americas, commemorated the 14 students and three faculty who were killed during the 2018 Parkland shooting and the two students who passed after.
In 2018, 300 students attended the vigil at Turlington Plaza. This year the crowd was closer to 100.
Three speakers shared their experiences to the people gathered outside Library West before holding a 19-second moment of silence and lighting 19 candles.
From across the street, they could see Century Tower lit up to resemble a flickering candle.
After the speakers finished, people gathered to the front to set down their candles and remember those who were lost. Groups of people stood around hugging one another and comforting those who cried.
“A lot of people from our school have stopped coming,” Daniel Nutter, 19, a UF biomedical engineering freshman said. “I know it's painful for them, and I know they want to move on with their lives.”
“I just hope that wherever they are, they at least have this in their memory.”
Anisha Saripalli, 20, a biomedical engineering senior and president of March for Our Lives Gainesville, said last year’s vigil was much smaller due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its regulations. This year, students who were in the 1200 building, the site of the attack, gathered in Plaza as newly-admitted freshmen.
“This is their first February 14 away from home,” Saripalli said. “So I think, because we provided this avenue for them, they just all came together to be with people who went through the same experiences that they did.”
Madison Gore, 21, a political science and history senior, said this was the first year all four grades of MSD students who experienced the shooting together were back on a campus together.
The vigil was important because it allowed students to show support, she said — even if they didn’t go to MSD, they could still support those that did.
“They all came in support and I think that's really special,” Gore said. “We don't see that a lot these days.”
This year's anniversary was the first one since the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty to the charges brought up against him.
It was horrifying that four new classes of freshmen had to walk by the building every day knowing what happened there without seeing any progress, Nutter said.
“We had no idea that this was coming, we had no idea that we'd be put through something so horrible,” Nutter said. “It was really inspiring to see kids from our school, just a couple years older than I am, talking to politicians in person and trying to push for actual change.”
Contact Gregorio Ruiz-Perez at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregRuizPerez1.