Police, flowers and media greet Stoneman Douglas students as the - FOX Carolina 21

Police, flowers and media greet Stoneman Douglas students as they return to school

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Students walk to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they attend classes for the first time since the shooting that killed 17 people on February 14 at the school on February 28, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Getty Image) Students walk to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they attend classes for the first time since the shooting that killed 17 people on February 14 at the school on February 28, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Getty Image)

By Emanuella Grinberg and Faith Karimi CNN 

(CNN) -- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students returned to classes Wednesday hoping to restore some sense of normalcy two weeks after a former student stormed the hallways with an AR-15 style rifle, killing 17 classmates and faculty members.

But, as they encountered a campus swarming with media, law enforcement officers and flashing patrol cars, and well-wishers passing out flowers, their return was anything but normal.

"It does give me comfort to know we do have more security, but also, it makes me think back to the day," junior Sawyer Garrity said in a video to CNN from her car, as she waited in a long line of traffic to enter the school parking lot. "I know they're all here to make us feel safe... but really it's just making me more anxious."

Teachers hope to ease students back into a routine with a shortened four-hour class schedule this week.

Classes began Wednesday at 7:40 a.m. with a 17-second period of silence in honor of the victims of the February 14 shooting.

Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the shooting, sent his son back to school on Wednesday. He described the experience as bittersweet.

"I'm not scared because this is now the safest school in America," he told CNN.

"My son walks in here without his sister. My daughter's friends walk in there. They used to always walk in with my daughter ... and they're walking in there without her."

'We're going to get through this together'

The night before resuming school, Isabela Barry played her guitar to calm her nerves. She lost a friend in the shooting, and she was anxious about returning to classrooms missing those who would no longer be there.

On the other hand, the thought of going back was reassuring in some ways, she said. Despite the anxiety, it will be comforting to return to the one place where everyone is bound by a similar experience.

"We all had that moment of realization of what truly matters and what's important," she said.

Since the shooting, Barry has had trouble sleeping in the dark. To alleviate anxiety, she and Garrity had "a virtual sleepover" Tuesday night, leaving their computer cameras on as they slept.

"We're going to get through this together," Barry said.

Flowers on empty desks

As classes resume, the school is trying to strike a balance between safety and creating a supportive environment, Principal Ty Thompson said in a phone call to parents Tuesday.

Students were told not to bring backpacks this week as the focus will be on emotional readiness and comfort, not curriculum.

The students walked into a school filled with grief counselors, comfort dogs and reminders of the tragedy all around them.

By the second class, student Ashley Paseltiner said the mood had lightened inside the hallways as friends and teachers reunited with hugs and laughter.

"The vibe is good," she said.

Like many students, Hannah Karcinell wore an "MSD Strong" shirt to signify her intentions moving forward. Karcinell is part of a campus group that has been exchanging messages on how to get through the difficult days ahead.

While they don't have many answers, she said, the reunion will include lots of hugs. They also plan to place flowers on the empty desks of the students and teacher who were killed in the February 14 shooting.

The school's Building 12, where most of the carnage occurred, remains closed. Plans to raze it are under consideration, said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools. For now, it's considered a crime scene.

Demand for gun reform

The shooting galvanized nationwide debate over gun laws and mass shootings and sparked a student-led movement whose members plan to keep fighting as classes resume.

Lina Crisostomo's SATs are coming up soon, but college test preparation has taken a backseat to funerals, vigils and walkouts.

She's been channeling her grief into fighting the gun lobby since the shooting, along with other students at the school. The student-led movement made gains no one predicted, and they don't want to lose momentum.

"Homework doesn't really seem that important now," she said last week. "My attention has changed to fighting for these 17 lives."

With the last day of the state's legislative session set for March 9, the clock is ticking for lawmakers to make changes following the shooting in Parkland. Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced a $500 million investment in school safety, which will include adding metal detectors, bulletproof glass, steel doors and upgraded locks.

In Washington, the push for new regulation and significantly strengthened background checks for weapons purchases appeared to lose political momentum. President Donald Trump is set to meet with lawmakers Wednesday.

CNN's Christina Manduley contributed to this report

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