Santa Fe High School students returned to school Tuesday for the first time since a gunman killed 10 people on the Texas campus 11 days ago.
With only two days left until summer break, the students found strength and comfort in community, greeting each other with hugs as they entered the campus.
Supporters lined the streets to cheer on the students as they made their way to school. The onlookers waved signs declaring “We Love Santa Fe” and “Santa Fe Strong,” maintaining a presence for several hours in the mid-morning heat.
Andi Lewis, a teacher from Pima, Texas, drove with students for more than an hour to show support.
“It just really hits close to home for us so we just wanted to come show them they’re in our thoughts and prayers and we’re still thinking of them,” Lewis said.
“It’s cool to be here and let these kids know we’re supporting them and they’re not alone,” student Kennedy Morgan said. “If we had to go through this we would hope that they were there for us, too.”
Others tried to shield the students from media by holding signs and umbrellas in front of cameras. “We don’t want you here,” one man told a CNN crew. The school district has asked the media to stay off school property all week.
Law enforcement presence
Students also encountered a large police presence that included reinforcements from state and Houston law enforcement agencies.
Officers guarded school entrances and a long line leading out of the building suggested increased security measures inside.
Teachers returned to work last Wednesday. In addition to increased security, the school district pledged counseling resources in locations throughout the district.
“There are no words that can express the overwhelming grief we all feel as a result of this horrific event, but we are committed to ensuring that all of our students, families and staff receive the care and support they need during this tragic time in our community,” Superintendent Leigh Wall said in a letter to the Santa Fe Independent School District community.
Creating new memories
Signs and messages around the community, located about 20 miles outside of Galveston, bear the phrase #SantaFeStrong.
On the eve of their return students expressed mixed emotions about returning.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be ready to go back to school,” said senior Kaitlyn Richards, who evacuated during the shooting.
“But I don’t want that last day to be my last memory of my senior year. I just want to know I can see all my classmates once again,” she told CNN affiliate KTRK.
Graduation is still scheduled for Friday, according to the school district’s website.
Some students told local media that they wanted to graduate at their campus and that they wanted to see their classmates and friends for the final days of school.
“We just have to get together, love one another, and just persevere,” Ken Harms, a history teacher told KTRK.
Police say accused gunman Dimitrios Pagourtzis said he meant to kill the people he targeted and avoided those he liked. He is charged with multiple counts of capital murder in the deaths of eight students and two teachers. Thirteen people were injured in the shooting.