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A year after high school shooting, Florida town still struggling

(In this February 6 story corrects paragraph 13 to show the 5k run is in honor of Stoneman’s athletic director, not football coach)

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PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) - Signs that read “Parkland Strong” and “MSD Strong” still dot the well-manicured Florida town where a young gunman carried out the deadliest U.S. high school shooting on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

But as the Feb. 14 anniversary of the massacre that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland approaches, students, teachers, parents and community leaders continue struggling to cope with the trauma.

“There’s a lot of community angst, an overwhelming sadness and frustration because not much has changed in a year,” said Angela Burrafato, whose son graduated from the school last year.

Divides persist over where to put blame and how to prevent another tragedy.

Former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, criticized for the department’s handling of the shooting, was suspended last month by newly elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and is mounting a legal campaign to reclaim his job.

Some community members also are calling for the removal of Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

The state’s Republican-led legislature swiftly passed gun control measures after the shooting, including raising the age requirement and setting a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.

Critics argue the restrictions did not go far enough, while a Republican lawmaker from Florida’s Panhandle region filed a bill last month to roll back some of the measures.

The community will come together, however, at a variety of events to mark the shooting that took the lives of 14 students and three adults.

Therapy dogs will roam the high school’s halls on Feb. 14, and the school day will end early. Students who opt not to attend classes will be excused, while those who come to campus have been encouraged to volunteer for community service projects.

An evening interfaith vigil is planned for the same park where thousands gathered the day after the shooting. Nearby, a California-based artist is erecting a 35-foot-tall, wooden “Temple of Time” commemorating the victims.

It will be adorned with remembrances of the lives lost and will be razed a few weeks later, similar to the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

Free yoga classes and beach cleanups are being organized. A five-kilometer run honoring slain Stoneman athletic director Chris Hixon is planned for Feb. 16.

Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky said the anniversary is a painful reminder of all the city suffered, but the volunteerism helps prevent the shooting from defining it, she said.

“We still have people helping each other, and that’s who Parkland was before this, and who it is today,” she said.

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown